The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently proposed a limit for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. If finalized, this would be the first limit for arsenic in food (previously limits were set only for drinking water and apple juice).
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What is arsenic and why is this announcement important?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in water, air and soil. While many foods may have arsenic from absorption through soil and water, rice plants tend to be one of the most absorbent. Arsenic exists in two forms: organic and inorganic. The inorganic form is the one the FDA is worried about because it has been associated with long-term health effects. For example, inorganic arsenic exposure to infants and pregnant women can lead to neurological effects in the child while high exposure can also increase bladder and lung cancer in adults.
The concern about arsenic in infant rice cereal is important because infants consume three times more rice than adults (relative to body weight). People consume the most rice (again relative to weight) at about 8 months old.
Should I be concerned about my infant's rice cereal?
The FDA proposes limiting inorganic arsenic to 100 parts per billion in infant rice cereal. From the Administration's tests, we know that the majority of infant rice cereal currently sold meets or is close to the proposed limit level.
Because rice cereal is a common starter food for babies, the FDA has a few suggestions, consistent with advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Feed your baby iron-fortified cereals to be sure she or he is receiving enough of this important nutrient.
- Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients for your baby, but it shouldn’t be the only source, and does not need to be the first source. Other fortified infant cereals include oat, barley and multigrain.
- For toddlers, provide a well-balanced diet, which includes a variety of grains.