A new report from Healthy Babies Bright Futures was featured in The New York Times. This report came from a group of scientists, nonprofit groups and private donors who wish to reduce children’s exposure to chemicals that may harm developing brains.
Rice cereal is often the first solid food given to a baby. However, it contains a relatively high amount of arsenic. Rice cereals contain six times more inorganic arsenic on average than other infant cereals made with other grains like barley or oatmeal.
Arsenic is everywhere and is found in many foods, but the rice plant is particularly efficient in drawing it from the surrounding soil and water. High levels of arsenic have been tied to cancers of the skin, liver, bladder and lungs. Newer research has linked long-term low-level exposures to cognitive and behavioral problems in children, though most babies currently eating rice cereals and rice foods do not show adverse effects. Infants are especially vulnerable because their bodies are so small and on a per-pound basis they have a much higher exposure.
The Healthy Babies Bright Futures commissioned Brooks Applied Labs in Bothell, Wash., to test more than 100 samples of infant cereals, including 45 unique products made by nine different companies. The report found that, overall, oatmeal, barley, buckwheat, organic quinoa, wheat and rice-free multigrain baby cereals contain much lower amounts of inorganic arsenic than rice cereals. In the six barley and buckwheat cereals tested, inorganic arsenic was present in such small amounts that it was either undetectable or the level had to be estimated. Some of the highest levels of inorganic arsenic were found in products made from brown rice which tends to absorb more inorganic arsenic from the environment and stores it in the fiber rich hull of brown rice.
The Food and Drug Administration has not set a limit to the amount of inorganic arsenic in baby food. Dr. Margaret R. Karagas, an epidemiologist at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth says, “It’s just like lead: we don’t think there is a safe level. It’s not an essential nutrient like zinc and selenium, which you need but can be toxic if you take too much — there is no known benefit to arsenic exposure.”
Nothing is ever simple. Rice flour is a common ingredient in gluten free foods. Many snacks and snack sweeteners such as brown rice syrup also contain rice.
From Mead Johnson Nutrition the following information is submitted to health care professionals interested in pediatric nutrition: “Enfamil A.R. is a milk-based, infant formula with iron thickened with added rice starch to reduce frequent spit ups. Rice cereal is not added to Enfamil A.R. The rice used is carefully processed and the formula is monitored for any unwanted elements, including arsenic.” They monitor their products for the presence of arsenic on a periodic basis to ensure their product’s continued safety and high quality.