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Half of the rice sold in the UK breaches limits on arsenic for children


Arsenic, which is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, is water-soluble - so it accumulates in rice, which is grown in flooded fields more than other cereals. Arsenic exposure affects almost every organ in the body and can cause skin lesions, cancer, diabetes and lung diseases.

Up to 90 per cent of UK households buy rice, with the average person consuming around 100 g per week. Rice and rice-based products are widely used for weaning and as baby food, due to their nutritional benefits and relatively low allergic potential – but, according to the European Food Safety Authority, children are two-three times more susceptible to arsenic risks than adults due to their lower body weight.

The new study:
In a study published in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety (open access), a team at the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food found 28 out of 55 rice samples sold in the UK contained levels of arsenic that exceeded European Commission regulations for rice meant for the consumption for infants or young children. The research is the first to measure differences in human health risks from arsenic using a substantial number of rice varieties marketed in the UK.

The results showed that brown rice contained higher levels of the carcinogen than white or wild rice because it contains the bran – the outer layer of the grain. Meanwhile, organically grown rice was found to contain significantly higher levels than non-organically grown rice. White rice contained the lowest levels of arsenic.

Considering the health implications, the researchers concluded that babies under the age of one must be restricted to a maximum of 20g per day of the 28 rice varieties that breached regulations, in order to avoid risks of developing cancer in later life. They have recommended that the UK government and European Commission introduce labelling to clarify whether rice is safe for consumption by babies and children under five.

"Brown and wild rice are healthy foods full of fibre and vitamins, and there is no need for grown-ups to avoid them – but it is concerning to see so many varieties sold in the UK breaching food safety regulations.

Rice products are often considered a safe option for babies and young children, but our research suggests that for more than half of the rice we sampled, infants should be limited to just 20 g per day to avoid risks associated with arsenic. The government and the European Commission must introduce labelling to warn people of arsenic levels in rice to enable families to make informed food choices" commented Dr Manoj Menon, Environmental Soil Scientist in the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the study.

Source: The University of Sheffield : Institute for Sustainable Food
Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.

The original study

Manoj Menon, Binoy Sarkar, Joseph Hufton, Christian Reynolds, Saul Vazquez Reina, Scott Young, Do arsenic levels in rice pose a health risk to the UK population?, Ecotoxicol. Environ. Safety, 197 (2020) 110601. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2020.110601

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M. Carey, C. Meharg, P. Williams, E. Marwa, X. Jiujin, J.G. Farias, P.M.C.S. De Silva, A. Signes-Pastor, Y. Lu, F.T. Nicoloso, L. Savage, K. Campbell, C. Elliott, E. Adomako, A.J. Green, E. Moreno-Jiménez, A.A. Carbonell-Barrachina, E.A. Triwardhani, F.I.  Pandiangan, P.I. Haris, Y.F. Lawgali, A. Sommella, M. Pigna, C. Brabet, D. Montet, K. Njira, M.J. Watts, A.A. Meharg, Global sourcing of low-inorganic arsenic rice grain. Expo. Health, (2020) 1–9. DOI: 10.1007/s12403-019-00330-y.

K.N. Jallad, The hazards of a ubiquitary metalloid, arsenic, hiding in infant diets: detection,. Speciation, Exposure, and Risk Assessment. Biol. Trace Elem. Res., 190 (2019) 11–23. DOI: 10.1007/s12011-018-1510-z.

N. Liao, E. Seto, B. Eskenazi, M. Wang, Y. Li, J. Hua, A comprehensive review of arsenic exposure and risk from rice and a risk assessment among a cohort of adolescents in Kunming, China. Int. J. Environ. Res. Publ. Health, 15/10 (2018) 1–17. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph15102191

R. Guillod-Magnin, B.J. Brüschweiler, R. Aubert, M. Haldimann,  Arsenic species in rice and rice-based products consumed by toddlers in Switzerland. Food Addit. Contam. Part A, 35/6 (2018) 1164-1178. DOI: 10.1080/19440049.2018.1440641.

Hong-Bo Li, Jie Li, Di Zhao, Chao Li, Xue-Jiao Wang, Hong-Jie Sun, Albert L. Juhasz, Lena Q. Ma, Arsenic Relative Bioavailability in Rice Using a Mouse Arsenic Urinary Excretion Bioassay and Its Application to Assess Human Health Risk, Environ. Sci. Technol., 51/8 (2017) 4689−4696. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b00495

S. Islam, M.M. Rahman, M.R. Islam, R. Naidu, Arsenic accumulation in rice: consequences of rice genotypes and management practices to reduce human health risk. Environ. Int., 96 (2016) 139–155. DOI: 10.1016/J.ENVINT.2016.09.006

A.J. Signes-Pastor, M. Carey, A.A. Meharg, Inorganic arsenic in rice-based products for infants and young children. Food Chem., 191 (2016) 128–134. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.11.078.

A.J. Signes-Pastor, M. Carey, A.A. Carbonell-Barrachina, E. Moreno-Jiménez, A.J. Green, A.A. Meharg, Geographical variation in inorganic arsenic in paddy field samples and commercial rice from the Iberian Peninsula. Food Chem., 202 (2016) 356–363. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.01.117.

F.R. Segura, J.M. de Oliveira Souza, E.S. De Paula, A. da Cunha Martins, A.C.C. Paulelli, F. Barbosa, B.L. Batista, Arsenic speciation in Brazilian rice grains organically and traditionally cultivated: is there any difference in arsenic content? Food Res. Int., 89/1 (2016) 169-176. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodres.2016.07.011.

R. Ma, J. Shen, J. Wu, Z. Tang, Q. Shen, F.-J. Zhao, Impact of agronomic practices on arsenic accumulation and speciation in rice grain. Environ. Pollut., 194 (2014) 217–223. DOI: 10.1016/J.ENVPOL.2014.08.004.

S. Munera-Picazo, F. Burló, A.A. Carbonell-Barrachina, Arsenic speciation in ricebased food for adults with celiac disease. Food Addit. Contam. Part A, 31/8 (2014) 1358-1366. DOI: 10.1080/19440049.2014.933491.

M.A. Rahman, M.M. Rahman, S.M. Reichman, R.P. Lim, R. Naidu, Arsenic speciation in australian-grown and imported rice on sale in Australia: implications for human health risk. J. Agric. Food Chem., 62/25 (2014) 6016–6024. DOI: 10.1021/jf501077w.

E.M. Rintala, P. Ekholm, P. Koivisto, K. Peltonen, E.R. Venäläinen, The intake of inorganic arsenic from long grain rice and rice-based baby food in Finland - low safety margin warrants follow up. Food Chem., 150 (2014) 199–205. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.10.155.

A. Sommella, C. Deacon, G. Norton, M. Pigna, A. Violante, A.A.  Meharg, Total arsenic, inorganic arsenic, and other elements concentrations in Italian rice grain varies with origin and type. Environ. Pollut., 181 (2013) 38–43. DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2013.05.045.

M. Kurzius-Spencer, M.K. O’Rourke, C.H. Hsu, V. Hartz, R.B. Harris, J.L. Burgess, Measured versus modeled dietary arsenic and relation to urinary arsenic excretion and total exposure. J. Expo. Sci. Environ. Epidemiol., 23 (2013) 442-449. DOI: 10.1038/jes.2012.120

Guo-Xin Sun, Tom Van de Wiele, Pradeep Alava, Filip Tack, Gijs Du Laing, Arsenic in Cooked Rice: Effect of Chemical, Enzymatic and Microbial Processes on Bioaccessibility and Speciation in the Human Gastrointestinal Tract, Environ. Pollut., 162 (2012) 241-6.
DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2011.11.021.

B.L. Batista, J.M.O. Souza, S.S. De Souza, F. Barbosa, Speciation of arsenic in rice and estimation of daily intake of different arsenic species by Brazilians through rice consumption, J. Hazard Mater., 191 (2011) 342-348. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2011.04.087

Diane Gilbert-Diamond, Kathryn L. Cottingham, Joann F. Gruber, Tracy Punshon, Vicki Sayarath, A. Jay Gandolfi, Emily R. Baker, Brian P. Jackson, Carol L. Folt,  Margaret R. Karagas, Rice consumption contributes to arsenic exposure in US women, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, 108/51 (2011) 20656-660. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1109127108

J.H. Huang, G. Ilgen, P. Fecher, Quantitative chemical extraction for arsenic speciation in rice grains. J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 25/6 (2010) 800-802. DOI: 10.1039/c002306j

A.A. Meharg, P.N. Williams, E. Adomako, Y.Y. Lawgali, C. Deacon, A. Villada, R.C.J. Cambell, G. Sun, Y.-G. Zhu, J. Feldmann, A. Raab, F.-J. Zhao, R. Islam, S. Hossain, J. Yanai, Geographical variation in total and inorganic arsenic content of polished (white) rice. Environ. Sci. Technol., 43/5 (2009) 1612–1617. DOI: 10.1021/es802612a.

A.A. Meharg, E. Lombi, P.N. Williams, K.G. Scheckel, J. Feldmann, A. Raab, Y. Zhu, R. Islam, Speciation and localization of arsenic in white and brown rice grains, Environ. Sci. Technol., 42/4 (2008) 1051–1057. DOI: 10.1021/es702212p

Y.G. Zhu, G.X. Sun, M. Lei, M. Teng, Y.X. Liu, N.C. Chen, L.H. Wang, A.M. Carey, C. Deacon, A. Raab, A.A. Meharg, P.N. Williams,  High percentage inorganic arsenic content of mining impacted and nonimpacted Chinese rice. Environ. Sci. Technol., 42/13 (2008) 5008-5013. DOI: 10.1021/es8001103.

S. Torres-Escribano, M. Leal, D. Vélez, R. Montoro, Total and inorganic arsenic concentrations in rice sold in Spain, effect of cooking, and risk assessments. Environ. Sci. Technol., 42/10 (2008) 3867–3872. DOI: 10.1021/es071516m

P.N. Williams, A. Raab, J. Feldmann, A.A. Meharg, Market basket survey shows elevated levels of as in South Central U.S. processed rice compared to California: consequences for human dietary exposure. Environ. Sci. Technol., 41/7 (2007) 2178–2183. DOI: 10.1021/es061489k.

P.N. Williams, A.H. Price, A. Raab, S.A. Hossain, J. Feldmann, A.A. Meharg, Variation in arsenic speciation and concentration in paddy rice related to dietary exposure. Environ. Sci. Technol., 39/15 (2005) 5531–5540. DOI: 10.1021/es0502324.

D.T. Heitkemper, N.P. Vela, K.R. Stewart, C.S. Westphal, Determination of total and speciated arsenic in rice by ion chromatography and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. J. Anal. At. Spectrom.,  16/4 (2001) 299–306. DOI: 10.1039/b007241i.

  J.P. Bennett, E. Chiriboga, J. Coleman, D.M. Waller, Heavy metals in wild rice from northern. Wisconsin. Sci. Total Environ., 246 (2000) 261–269. DOI: 10.1016/S0048-9697(99)00464-7.

J.O. Nriagu, T.-S. Lin, Trace metals in wild rice sold in the United States. Sci. Total Environ., 172 (1995) 223–228. DOI: 10.1016/0048-9697(95)04809-X

Related information:

US FDA: Arsenic in rice and rice products
UK Food Standards Agency: Arsenic in Rice
WHO: Arsenic fact sheet

Related EVISA Resources

Brief summary: ICP-MS: A versatile detection system for speciation analysis
Brief summary: LC-ICP-MS - The most often used hyphenated system for speciation analysis
Brief summary: Standard methods for arsenic speciation analysis
Brief summary: Chemical speciation analysis for nutrition and food science
Link database: Arsenic species and human health/nutrition/metabolism

Link database: Toxicity of arsenic species
Material database: Rice reference materials
Material database: Reference materials for arsenic speciation

Related EVISA News (newest first):

November 14, 2013: Arsenic Speciation in Rice Cereals for Infants
May 15, 2013: Arsenic species in rice: Origin, uptake and geographical variation
February 15, 2013: JRC-IRMM has released ERM-BC211 certified rice reference material for arsenic speciation analysis
September 21, 2012: Arsenic in Rice : First results from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
January 4, 2011: Arsenic species in rice: Call for analytical laboratories
May 19, 2010: China: Inorganic Arsenic in Rice - An Underestimated Health Threat ?
December 4, 2009: EFSA: Scientific Opinion on Arsenic in Food
May 26, 2009: UK Food Standards Agency releases research on arsenic in rice milk
January 31, 2009: Using the right recipe for cooking rice reduces toxic inorganic arsenic content
July 18, 2008: Experts detail how rice absorbs arsenic from the soil 
March 15, 2008: Arsenic in rice milk exceeds EU and US drinking water standards
February 15, 2008:
Arsenic speciation in rice: a question of the rice plant species
December 26, 2007: The effect of thermal treatment on the arsenic speciation in food
March 7, 2007: Elevated Arsenic Levels Found In Rice Grown In South Central States of the USA
September 7, 2006: New Agilent HPLC column for routine determination of arsenic species in human urine by HPLC-ICP-MS

last time modified: May 5, 2020


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