Arsenic Rice Scare

I’d seen this story a while back, but ignored it. It is basically a “Scare Story” about arsenic in rice. Why ignore it? Well, I figured that people had been eating rice for thousands of years so maybe we were quite able to eat rice…

FDA tests find arsenic in rice
After detecting cancer-causing compound, agency vows to make further studies a priority

Many name-brand rice and rice products contain varying levels of carcinogenic arsenic, according to the results of separate sets of tests announced today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationand Consumer Reports.

Sure sounds scary, don’t it? “carcinogenic arsenic”. Further down, they even tell you just how much they are worried about. And in what foods. Seems rice, in particular, has their panties in a bunch. And “Oh Dear!” people feed rice to babies!!!

Currently, there is no federal maximum level for arsenic in food. The findings have led Consumer Reports and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to call on the FDA to set such limits, particularly in baby food, and to caution the public about eating large amounts of rice and feeding it to small children.

And it isn’t even regulated!!! How have we lived all these many centuries without government regulation of arsenic in rice?

FDA says its data, which found an average of 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms of inorganic arsenic in a single serving of rice or rice product, are consistent with the levels found in the Consumer Reports study.

The Consumer Reports data indicate that brown rice, which retains the outer bran, can carry higher levels of arsenic.

Oh, the horrors! 6 micrograms. And that Evil Brown Rice! (Never mind that all rice was ‘brown rice’ up until recent start of the industrial age when milling off the bran began…)

So what are we to do? Why, cut that rice out of the diet and cut it back to just tiny token amounts, says the “expert”:

In the wake of the new reports, some American pediatricians said they would alter their advice for parents feeding their children.

“I think a prudent position for the next few months or years until the FDA standards (on arsenic) come out is that parents avoid rice or at least avoid any rice that comes from Texas, Louisiana or Missouri and when in doubt go with barley or oatmeal,” Dr. Phillip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital School of Medicine, said today on CBS’ “This Morning.”

Dr. Frank Greer, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and its former committee chairman on nutrition, was a little more conservative in his advice, noting that “we don’t really know what the arsenic content of food really means at this point.”

Still, he said the new studies would lead him to modify advice to parents about feeding rice to kids. Consumer Reports suggests limiting servings to children to a little more than a quarter-cup of uncooked rice a week.

So what’s my ‘beef’ with that? How could I possibly be against regulating and demanding the removal of carcinogenic heavy metal toxins from our food supply? Chasing after something else I ran into an article about the need for arsenic in human metabolism and how it was just being figured out. So I thought:

Well…. maybe because clueless bureaucrats and wet-pants-doctors don’t know much about arsenic after all. Maybe because very few people really do. Maybe because it is, in fact, important to have some arsenic in your diet. (throughout the discussions you will see references to ‘inorganic arsenic’ and ‘organic arsenic’ and how one is more toxic than the other. In fact, you can metabolize inorganic into the organic bound form. So in small doses, one can become the other…)

Rats, chickens, minipigs and goats raised on low-arsenic diets (< 35 ng of arsenic/g) exhibited reduced growth rates during early life. In goats, the most closely investigated species, reproductive performance is also impaired, as a result of decreased conception rates, increased abortion frequency, greatly increased maternal mortality (especially during lactation) and reduced viability of newborn kids. Cardiomyopathy, associated with a derangement of cardiac mitochondrial structure, may be the cause. Several biochemical changes accompanying the signs of arsenic deficiency have been described, but the fundamental mode and site of action of the element are not yet known.

Seems that going all crazy paranoid and yanking arsenic out of the diet screws up a variety of animals, including birds and 3 kinds of mammals, and in particular screws up mothers and infants…

Sources and Intake

Most foods and feeds of terrestrial origin contain less than 1 ug of arsenic/gm dry weight; the levels present in those of marine origin are substantially higher, ranging up to 80 mcg/g. Dietary intake is therefore greatly influenced by the amount of seafood in the diet. Based on recent surveys in several countries, the daily arsenic intake of adults is estimated to be < 200 mcg, and often below 100 mcg/day. It is unlikely that the arsenic intake from uncontaminated diets poses a risk of toxicity. Extrapolation from animal experiments suggests that human adult intakes in the range 12-25 mcg/day are probably adequate to meet any possible requirement.

Golly. Not just 6 micrograms in a serving of rice, but 80 micrograms in a single GRAM of seafood! And I eat that stuff by the kilo! In many countries, folks eating 200 micrograms a day. Why that is the equivalent of about 33 bowls of rice!! /sarc…

It also looks like with “only” 2 to 4 bowls of rice per day you can get what is “probably adequate” levels to meet the possible dietary needs…

Because inorganic arsenic is known to be carcinogenic in humans, there is understandable concern to limit human exposure to excessive environmental concentrations of the element. However, the metabolism and effects of arsenic can differ markedly, depending on the chemical nature of the arsenic source; these differences partly account for the provisional nature of the recommended safe exposure limit for adults of 15 mcg/kg of body weight per week. Since experimental arsenic deficiency has been produced in four species, the element may have an essential function. If a human requirement for arsenic does exist, it is probably close to 20 mcg/day for adults and is easily met by most diets.

15 micrograms / kilogram? I’m about 100 kilos, so that’s 1500 micrograms. Or about 250 bowls of rice per week. I think I’m safe…

So what do they think arsenic might be doing?

Arsenic: A Sulfur amino acid metabolism effector?

Other reviews have described in detail the signs of arsenic deprivation in four animal species: chick, goat, rat, and miniature pig. In the goat, rat, and miniature pig the most consistent signs of arsenic deprivation have been depressed growth and abnormal reproduction characterized by impaired fertility and elevated perinatal mortality. Other signs of deprivation described for goats include depressed serum triglycerides and death during lactation. Myocardial damage, which in advanced stages included ruptured mitochondria, has also been found in arsenic-deficient lactating goats. Other responses to arsenic deprivation have been described. However, these responses have varied in nature and severity with variation in the dietary concentrations of a variety of substances including zinc, arginine, choline, methionine, and guanidoacetic acid. These substances are interrelated because they are effectors of methionine metabolism.

Additional findings have appeared recently which suggest that arsenic has a biological role that affects formation of various metabolites from methionine, including taurine and polyamines. For example, arsenic deprivation depressed the taurine concentration in plasma of hamsters. It also has been reported that arsenic deprivation depressed the concentrations of putrescine, spermidine, and spermine, and the activity of S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase in liver of rats fed diets containing marginal amounts of methionine. The transfer of an aminopropyl group from decarboxylated S-adenosylmethionine to putrescine and spermidine forms spermidine and spermine, respectively.

Some of the signs of arsenic deprivation described are harmonious with the suggestion that arsenic influences taurine function or effects. The myocardium has a very high taurine content, which changes in several pathophysiological conditions affecting the heart. The administration of taurine to patients suffering from congestive heart failure alleviated their physical signs and symptoms of this disorder. Cardiomyopathy associated with low plasma taurine has been reported to occur in cats fed a taurine-deficient diet. Taurine also apparently plays an important role in stabilization of cell membranes. Perhaps the ruptured mitochondrial membranes and damage found in arsenic-deprived goat hearts involved changes in myocardial taurine. A major source of taurine for growing animals is milk; taurine deficiency results in reduced growth and survival in kittens. An important physiologic function of taurine is bile acid conjugation necessary for lipid solubilization and absorption. These taurine findings could be related to the arsenic deprivation signs of perinatal mortality, depressed perinatal growth, and depressed serum triglycerides.
Although arsenic might affect gene expression through the polyamines, another possibility exists, that is, through histone methylation. It is believed the reaction by which inorganic arsenic is methylated by S-adenosylmethlonine exists mainly to facilitate the movement of arsenic through and out of the body in a nontoxic form, to detoxify inorganic arsenic. However, because nutrients that affect methyl group metabolism (e.g., guanidoacetic acid) affect the response to arsenic deprivation, arsenic may have an essential role in the labile methyl metabolism involving methionine.
Any possible nutritional requirement by humans can only be estimated by using data from animal studies. The arsenic requirement for growing chicks and rats has been suggested to be near 25 ng/g diet. A possible human arsenic requirement is 12 mcg/day. The reported arsenic content of diets from various parts of the world indicates that the average daily intake of arsenic is in the range of 12-40 mcg. Fish, grain and cereal products contribute the most arsenic to the diet.

In other words, it is needed for some key aspects of how our machinery operates, but only in small amounts. We have pathways to detoxify the inorganic form and turn it into the functional organic form (for modest amounts). And we can likely get all we need from ordinary diets. Say those with rice and seafood in them…

Nearer the top of that article was some interesting information that makes it look like other species need more arsenic than mammals, but that during the development of a baby more is needed (as the mother raises the blood levels – a common thing in pregnancy for needed nutrients.)

As – Arsenic is found in igneous rock at 1.0 to 8.0 ppm; shale at 13.0 ppm; sandstone and limestone at 1.0 ppm; fresh water at 0.0004 ppm; sea water at 0.003ppm; soils at 6.0 *ppm (Argentina and New Zealand have toxic high arsenic soils in some regions); marine plants 30.O ppm; land plants 0.2 ppm; marine animals 0.005 to 0.3ppm (accumulated by coelenterates, mollusca and crustaceans; land animals < 0.2 ppm (concentrates in hair and nails). essential for survivability of newborn and neonatal growth.

Arsenic metabolism is affected by tissue and blood levels of zinc, selenium, arginine, choline, methionine, taurine and guaniacetic acid, all of which affect methyl-group metabolism and polyamine synthesis which is the site of arsenic function in human physiology.

Arsenic promotes the growth rate of chicks at 90 to 120 ppms. The rate of growth and metamorphosis of tadpoles is enhanced by the presence of arsenic.

The French Academy first identified arsenic in dead human bodies in 1834. Arsenic normally appears in female human blood at 0.64 ppm, it rises to 0.93 PPM during menstruation and 2.20 ppm during months five and six of pregnancy.

So it looks like biological demand for arsenic is especially high in the developing baby…

I need some idiot mandating arsenic be removed from my food and to not feed healthy and needed levels of an essential nutrient to my kids because… why again?

And folks wonder why I eat natural foods, don’t care that things “meet government standards”, and want busybodies out of my life and to take their hands off my dinner plate…

I’m quite happy just looking at the historical health and well being of folks eating diets high in brown rice and fish and figure maybe, just maybe, nature has worked all this out already.

I’m also quite sure that most doctors have little clue at all about what is, and is not, a needed micro-nutrient or trace element. These same folks that shove Tylenol / acetaminophen at folks like chocolates (leading to it being the largest cause of liver transplants and possible co-factor in Autism) are now also jumping to conclusions and saying not to eat a food that gives the needed level of an essential mineral. And especially to deny it to children who look to have the largest biological demand. Now you know why I’m prone to caution when dealing with any “advice” from doctors.

OK, eat your brown rice and seafood and tell the Arsenic Police to go find someone else to panic.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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19 Responses to Arsenic Rice Scare

  1. sabretoothed says:

    B17 –> = Arsenic, looks like it prevents and treats cancer too

  2. Speed says:

    A two page fact sheet from the Argonne National Laboratories …

    Click to access arsenic.pdf

    More than you ever wanted to know about arsenic …
    The ATSDR toxicological profile succinctly characterizes the toxicologic and adverse health effects information for the hazardous substance described here. Each peer-reviewed profile identifies and reviews the key literature that describes a hazardous substance’s toxicologic properties.

    It’s a concern when reporters for a prestigious news outfit like NPR fail to get simple things like units of measure right …
    For instance, Consumer Reports found that Kellogg’s Rice Krispies had about 85 to 90 parts per billion of arsenic; that’s for a one cup serving.

    How much for a two cup serving?

    No real reporting here. They’re just regurgitating press releases.

  3. DirkH says:

    “I’m also quite sure that most doctors have little clue at all about what is, and is not, a needed micro-nutrient or trace element. ”

    I never ask my doctor about nutrients. He’s a good doc but that’s not part of his expertise. I ask the girls in the pharmacy. They’ve studied it.

  4. Judy F. says:

    My grandmother did home canning for years from the abundant fruit that they had at their house. My grandmother canned cherries, peaches, pears and my favorite was her canned apricots. She had gone to “Homemaking School” around 1920 and had been taught to include an apricot pit in every jar of apricots she canned. Many years later I went to a canning class put on by the local Extension Service. The very young Extension Agent told us never to include an apricot pit in canning jars because of the high levels of cyanide in the pits and it was dangerous. Sigh. My Grandma died when she was 94, so I doubt that apricot pit poisoning was a factor in her demise.

    I don’t watch daytime TV, but I do have a few evening favorites that I watch. A year or so ago there was a trailer for an upcoming Dr Oz show, where he talked about arsenic in apples and the trailer showed the (appropriately horrified) faces of the audience. The FDA responded with the organic/inorganic argument, but I doubt that the frantic mothers paid any attention. Dr. Oz’ motives were questioned I worry about all those mothers who so limit what their children eat, because of the newest fad/health warning/nutrition crisis out there.

    I am surprised that I have lived as long as I have and I am surprised my children made it through infancy, what with me feeding them rice cereal and applesauce, and home canned apricots with a pit in the jar. :)

  5. Speed says:

    Re: Dr. Oz

    The Operator
    Is the most trusted doctor in America doing more harm than good?

  6. Svend Ferdinandsen says:

    It follows the normal way. When they measure something they don’t thought should be there or they get better equipment to measure, then all is a serious problem. They start telling of all the harm the substance in itself can do (in heavy doses), and eventually late in the paper they state the concentration, but no mention of the harm or benefits of this very low concentration they found.
    In my opinion reserchers must be very anxious peoble, because they are always very alarmed of new findings, that in there wiev may posess a big thread to human lives.
    With the improvements in detecting even smaller parts, they should very soon be hospitalized and treated for nerveous breakdown.

  7. E.M.Smith says:


    Nice to see that the first link at least recognized that arsenic is needed by animals, even if they were a bit tentative about it.

    I’m sure it is a rare minority of folks who realize that it is an essential trace nutrient for humans. Rather like selenium where it is needed, but too much is toxic. ( Or copper for that matter…)



    @Judy F:

    What is the reason for the pit in the jar? Just curious… “old methods” often have interesting insight… FWIW, I like eating apple seeds. Yes, I know they have cyanide in them. I like the taste and figure that’s nature telling me something ;-) FWIW, the almond is a ‘seed pit’ and from the same family as apricots and peaches. The seed inside the peach pit or apricot pit is the same part of the plant as an almond. I like almonds too. Wonder if there is a dietary benefit to low dose cyanide? ;-)

    Yeah, feeding kids rice and applesauce and apricots, oh, the horrors! Why, I bet you even fed them shellfish some times; those buggers really concentrate arsenic (it seems they have more need for it in their metabolisms). Feed kids a shrimp, go to prison!!! Child Endangerment!!!!

    As if folks have not been eating rice and shell fish for a few thousands of years, or longer…

    @Svend Ferdinandsen:

    One can only hope!

    I suspect they know it’s not important, but have learned the “Scare Story for Funding” game… just like in Global Warming Scare…

  8. E.M.Smith says:


    doesn’t contain arsenic. Does have breakdown products that include cyanide.

    Maybe why I like eating seeds with cyanide in them ;-)

    “The poison is in the dose”… maybe a small amount of poisons like arsenic and cyanide are needed as we evolved systems that expected us to consume some base level of them. There is a bacteria in soil that if encountered as an infant gives minor sniffles. If not encountered until ‘young adult’ it can kill you. Nature expects us not to be too clean and sterile; and not to avoid all things in small doses that have a large toxic dose.

  9. adolfogiurfa says:

    Kind of molecular sized drones!

    Chinese eat a lot of rice and they do not die from arsenic poisoning….Americans, instead, will die of fear poisoning.

  10. Svend Ferdinandsen says:

    I have a small extra to say about scientists and reserchers as i perceive it. (those you hear about in press releases).
    Most often they fear something that they discovered, but somehow, even that those are the peoble with the skills, they never investigate the fear closer, so as to find out if it is dangerous or not. Is’nt it funny, those that have the skills, stops as soon as they find something to fear.
    For me “altmodich” as i am, that would be the trigger to some serious investigation.
    Enough of that complaining, but where have all the good inventions and believe in future gone, the spirit we saw for 50 years ago. Have i gone old, or is it the spirit of the time.

  11. sandy mcclintock says:

    Nice one EM ;)
    One of the problems these days is that the analytical equipment can measure smaller and smaller concentrations of anything – so that which has a zero concentration 50 years ago, no longer registers as zero today.
    I am reminded about how long it can take for erroneous myths to fade out of the collective conciousness … ‘everyone’ knows that spinach is a rich source of iron … but this myth was triggered about a century ago with a misplaced decimal point. A ‘survey’ of 5 text books had spinach iron levels correct in two books and 10 times too high in three books. The correct iron levels puts spinach in the typical range of most vegetables ;)

  12. Graeme No.3 says:

    sandy mcclintock says:
    One of the problems these days is that the analytical equipment can measure smaller and smaller concentrations of anything.
    Yes, and the results are presented with smaller and smaller concentrations of common sense.

    O/T? I see the “Bisphenol-A kills you” scare is still running. 14 years ago (when I was still involved in Regulatory Affairs) the Technical Director told me that he had calculated that if all the Bisphenol-A in soft drink can linings was somehow soluble, then people swallowing 857,000 cans of soft drink a year would become sick. Given that the coatings were based on epoxy (epoxy-phenolic have been used for 50 years or more because they are resistant to acid and alkali – to split epoxy to Bisphenol-A the ‘usual’ reagent would be boiling hydroiodic acid, something not normally present in the digestive system) I was dismissive of the idea. “THIS IS SERIOUS” he said, “normally a scare like this would involve 3 or 4 million cans a year. They will be able to keep this scare going for years before common sense prevails”.

    Your common sense has probably killed off a scare campaign at its start. Don’t expect thanks from the usual suspects.

  13. Terry Jackson says:

    Nutrition and Hula Hoops and Pet Rocks have a lot in common. Breakfast back in the ’40’s is bacon and eggs and coffee. EEK! Bacon and eggs have cholesterol and that is bad for you. EEK! Coffee is bad for you. Eating fat makes you fat. Been up and down this escalator a number of times Gary Taubes has it about right. Nutrition pretty much got the big picture in the ’20’s and has gone down the road or the lemmings since.

    Micro-nutrients are just that. Sort of like the sweetener scares earlier, if you drink 35,000 diet cokes a day for 67 years you will have issues. If you eat 30,000 lbs of rice a day you will have issues.

  14. P.G.Sharrow says:

    @Terry; As I remember it, late 40s early 50s breakfast was hot mush with butter and/or cream and some sugar. Bacon or sausage and eggs was only weekend fare. “Presweeten cold ceral” almost never! Soda pop, special treat only, maybe at a Sunday barbeque. But then my mother was actually taught nutrition in school in the late 30s I think they called it “Home Economics” ;-) pg

  15. Judy F. says:

    @EM I don’t know for sure why the pit was included. “It made the apricots taste better” was one reason and “because” was the other reason.

    @PG. I received a copy of the Alumnus newsletter from where I went to college. When I attended, there was the “College of Home Economics”. A few years later it was changed to “College of Applied Human Sciences”. Now the latest newsletter says that the name will be changed to ” College of Health and Human Services”. Sounds as though it is an arm of the government.

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    @Judy F.:

    In my old high school, we had “Home Economics”. A room full of stoves and ovens. Kids were taught how to shop, cook foods, make a decent meal out of cheap ingredients. Preserve foods (i.e. canning and drying and salting).

    Now all gone. (Along with music and arts and anything else not of value to a corporate employer…)

    I’ll have to test can ‘with pit’ vs without to see if it does make it taste better. I could even see some of the ingredients helping with killing off bacteria. (Hey, a little cyanide might be a GOOD thing!) I vaguely remember the folks in My Home Town leaving a pit in some stone fruit or other… maybe peaches…

    Per the school name: Yeah, folks trying to make names more Politically Correct and “modern”…

    We had shop and home ec. It worked very well. Guys learned to fix things and tune up cars (in some cases rebuilding ‘junk’ into ‘my car’) and gals learned to make delicious meals using nearly no money. Now they learn to scam the system and hang out at the burger joint… Only thing wrong with it was that I wanted to take Home Ec AND Shop and was discouraged by the staff and social order. ( I’d been cooking since age 5 as we were a restaurant family). Never quite understood why it was ‘wrong’ for me to want to take a class in what “Mom AND Dad did to make money” at their business… If it were up to me, I’d have a basic survival class that every kid had to take where they ALL learned how to cook, change the oil & tires on the car and do the brakes, and sew up a shirt & knit socks / sweater. Oh, and program a computer enough to add a column of numbers… and maybe make a stove from some old tin cans while building a ‘brush shelter’…

    Oh Well. I guess learning to put condoms on banana and why FDR was “so great” is much more important…

    @P.G. Sharrow:

    We had oatmeal and then things got better money-wise and “bacon and eggs” become more like about 1/2 the time… Still fond of both. Oh, and Malt-O-Meal ;-)

    @Graeme No.3:

    Hopefully folks will learn that Arsenic is both a toxin AND a needed nutrient and the “scare” will die out.

    Per Bis-Phenol-A: That’s more problematic. It does migrate from some plastics into foods and into bodies. But the amounts are very small. Then again, hormone analogs can be active in very very small amounts. So it’s unlikely to kill anyone, but looks like it can screw up some systems in some folks…. but maybe not enough to matter all on its own… but also interacts with OTHER hormone analogs… So, in short, it’s a mess. Likely worth avoiding, but not worth really worrying about…

    @Sandy Mcclintock:

    There was some kid who’s “dying wish” was to make the Guiness Book Of Records for most get well cards. That was decades ago. They STILL get car loads of cards for him. He recovered and is now nearing or in middle age and has pleaded for folks to stop… The cards keep coming…

    @Svend Ferdinandsen:

    I have a poorly formed theory about that. At the start, everybody is at high risk of dying and anything that helps, helps a lot. The culture becomes all about “can do” and reasonable risk taking. Fast forward a generation or two. Things are good. Often very very good. Most everyone does well and lives a long life without a lot of anything special.

    At that point the benefit of a “new way or thing” is much lower. Then some minor risk is large in comparison (as you are unlikely to know 3 folks who died of cholera and flu, nor a couple missing body parts from ‘the war’, nor someone in an iron lung from polio…). Avoidance of risk becomes the important thing. “Just get along” gives a long good enough life. Don’t rock the boat…

    I think that’s where we are now, due to our success at getting rid of real risks.


    The Chinese will end up with “fear poisoning” too as they become more successful. We will lose ours as we slide back toward the bottom…

    A rich man always fear losing money, a man in poverty never does…

    I think there is a Buddhist aspect to this. That ‘being the empty vessel’ removes the fears… but that is for another thread…

  17. sabretoothed says:

    My theory is that like B17, weaker cancer cells in body are killed by the “Arsenic” so in a way its cancer protection?
    Those that eat apricot kernels in Turkey and other middle eastern countries have lower rates of cancer from memory?

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