In addition to juice, foods including chicken, rice, and
even baby food have been found to contain arsenic—sometimes at higher levels
than the amounts found in juice. Brian Jackson, Ph.D., an analytical chemist
and research associate professor at Dartmouth College, presented his findings
at a June 2011 scientific conference in Aberdeen, Scotland. He reported finding
up to 23 ppb of arsenic in lab tests of name-brand jars of baby food, with
inorganic arsenic representing 70 to 90 percent of those total amounts.
Similar results turned up in a 2004 study conducted by FDA
scientists in Cincinnati, who found arsenic levels of up to 24 ppb in baby
food, with sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, and peaches containing only
the inorganic form. A United Kingdom study published in 2008 found that
the levels of inorganic arsenic in 20-ounce packets of dried infant rice
cereals ranged from 60 to 160 ppb. Rice-based infant cereals are often the
first solid food that babies eat.
Rice frequently contains high levels of inorganic arsenic
because it is among plants that are unusually efficient at taking up arsenic
from the soil and incorporating it in the grains people eat. Moreover, much of
the rice produced in the U.S. is grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri,
and Texas, on land formerly used to grow cotton, where arsenical pesticides
were used for decades.
“Initially, in some regions rice planted there produced
little grain due to these arsenical pesticides, but farmers then bred a type of
rice specifically designed to produce high yields on the contaminated soil,”
says Andrew Meharg, professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Aberdeen,
in Scotland. Meharg studies human exposures to arsenic in the environment. His
research over the past six years has shown that U.S. rice has among the highest
average inorganic arsenic levels in the world—almost three times higher than
levels in Basmati rice imported from low-arsenic areas of Nepal, India, and
Pakistan. Rice from Egypt has the lowest levels of all.
Infant rice cereal for the U.S. market is generally made
from U.S. rice, Meharg says, but labeling usually doesn’t specify country of
origin. He says exposure to arsenic through infant rice cereals could be
reduced greatly if cereal makers used techniques that don’t require growing
rice in water-flooded paddies or if they obtained rice from low-arsenic areas.
His 2007 study found that median arsenic levels in California rice were
41 percent lower than levels in rice from the south-central U.S.