Arsenic in rice: Consumer Reports 'overstated' danger, says Phoenix doc

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- After a recent investigation into the presence of arsenic in apple and grape juice, Consumer Reports tested more than 200 samples of various rice products, including baby cereal, breakfast cereal, brown rice and white rice.

The results of those tests showed some level of arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in more than 60 different products -- almost every product they  looked at.

"Arsenic not only is a potent human carcinogen but also can set up children for other health problems in later life," reads the Consumer Reports article "Arsenic in your food." "The results of our tests were even more troubling in some ways than our findings for juice."

Is this something we need to worry about? According to Consumer Reports, the answer is yes. Consumer groups are pushing the Food and Drug Administration to develop standards for the levels of arsenic in rice.

Dr. Frank LoVecchio, a medical toxicologist at Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center, sat down with 3TV's Kaley O'Kelley to talk it through.

His belief is somewhat different from what's in the Consumer Reports piece. He said arsenic can be found in almost everything, including the dust particles we breathe in daily, but the levels are well below the threshold of what's considered safe.

He says there is no way to link arsenic exposure at these levels to an increased risk of developing cancer in the future. That coincides with the FDA's saying there is no evidence suggesting rice is unsafe to eat.

The bottom line, according to LoVecchio, is that rice does not pose a major health concern, despite the findings and recommendations expressed by Consumer Reports on Wednesday.

"They made recommendations that are a little too much," LoVecchio said. "It's impossible to eliminate arsenic from rice. It's impossible to eliminate it from our environment.

"I think the best thing to do is go on with what you're doing and realize that this was a little overstated ...," he continued. "The levels are so low, and there are so many other foods that have this. It'd almost be like eliminating the air that you breathe. ...

"I can tell you in a couple of years, we'll be sitting here again and talking about another substance that has minute amounts of arsenic that was checked and thought to maybe be harmful."

Established in 1936, "Consumer Reports is an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves."