Food and Cuisine

Published on April 18th, 2012 | by Lynn Fang


Arsenic in Organic Rice and What You Can Do About It

Rice is a staple grain for many cultures all over the world. For many, organic products are believed safer than traditional items so organic rice products were believed safe and healthy. Recently, however,  inorganic arsenic was found in organic brown rice syrup. Environmental Health Perspectives reports ingestion of inorganic arsenic in drinking water causes cancer and the Arsenic Health Effects Research Program at UC Berkeley produced a slew of research pinpointing the adverse effects of ingesting inorganic arsenic. Some potential health effects include, but are not limited to cancer of the skin, bladder, lung, liver, and kidney. Evidence also suggests that arsenic is a cause of chronic respiratory disease and adverse effects on reproductive outcomes and child development have also been reported. So what are consumers to do?

Learn about arsenic contamination in rice and some things you can do to keep your family safe.


Where Does Arsenic Come From?

As reported in Environmental Health Perspectives, arsenic-based pesticides were once used in south central United States cotton farms to control boll weevils. Arsenic-based pesticides are banned but residual arsenic still contaminate the soil. Today, rice paddies replace the cotton but pick up some of that residual arsenic.

[CC Image from Emily Barney via Flickr]

granola bars

Brown rice syrup is often used in granola bar recipes

Arsenic in Organic Rice Products

Arsenic was reported in the water supply, and more recently, has contaminated organic brown rice syrup, a product often marketed to kids and families as a safe sugar replacement. Rice labeled organic is assumed to stand free of toxins, when that is far from the truth. A Dartmouth study revealed some products containing organic brown rice syrup as the major ingredient contained high levels of the cancer-causing compound, inorganic arsenic. The items tested included organic toddler formulas, cereal bars, and high performance energy products.

{cc photo courtesy of Seven Morris on Flickr}

rinsing rice

Rinsing rice of impurities

Reducing Arsenic Exposure

Green Blogger Anna Hackman of Green Talk was outraged by this discovery, and spearheaded a petition to set arsenic limits for rice. Anna advises families to read ingredients labels looking for brown rice syrup and talk to your child’s pediatrician about their formula needs.  It may be possible to change formulas or even make your own.  Brown rice syrup is also found in energy bars where 2-3 bars per day can exceed the EPA water standard for arsenic. Hackman goes on to explain that arsenic excretion occurs in 2-3 days so your child may not need testing. If you have a well you should have the water tested for arsenic. You can also wash your rice thoroughly, soaking and rinsing it until the water runs clear. Cycle through grains instead of using only rice as a staple. Couscous, quinoa and millet are good substitutes to use as a breakaway from rice.

{cc photo courtesy of  moirabot via Flickr}


Is rice a regular staple of your diet? How do you feel about the information in these studies?

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About the Author

is a compost consultant and educator, eco-conscious writer, and intuitive artist. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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