Brown Rice Syrup Adds Arsenic to Organic Products

February 18, 2012

Dartmouth researchers found arsenic in infant formulas and cereal bars.

Products sweetened with brown rice syrup may contain unsafe levels of inorganic arsenic, according to a Dartmouth College study.

Brown rice syrup is a common sweetener alternative to high fructose corn syrup, especially in food products marketed as “organic.” But the new study found alarmingly high levels of the substance in organic infant formulas, cereal bars, and high energy sport foods. Experts speculate that the contamination, previously reported in other rice, may be due to traditional cultivation of the ingredient on land previously used for pesticide-reliant cotton farming.

The Dartmouth College researchers measured inorganic arsenic levels in 17 infant formulas, 29 cereal bars, and 3 high energy sports foods. Compared to products void of rice ingredients, those containing rice product demonstrated significantly higher levels of inorganic arsenic. One infant formula even contained six times the arsenic allowed in drinking water (10 parts per billion).

“There are currently no U.S. regulations applicable to arsenic in food, but our findings suggest that the organic broken rice syrup products we evaluated may introduce significant concentrations of inorganic arsenic to an individual’s diet,” wrote the researchers. “Thus, we conclude that there is an urgent need for regulatory limits on As in food.”

The concern around arsenic exposure is especially significant in infants, whose lower body weight may increase risk of detrimental exposure.

Arsenic made previous headlines this year when a Consumer Reports investigation found significant levels of the substance in apple and grape juices. Members of U.S. Congress have since introduced a bill to cap arsenic levels in juice products.