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If you have been following news reports about arsenic foods, you've probably seen Dr.Oz's report about arsenic in apple juice and Consumer Reports studies about high levels of arsenic rice, and the FDA's proposal to limit the amount of arsenic in apple juice. But what does it all mean? Is it safe to drink apple juice? And half the world's population eats rice as their basic food each day. Are they all dying from arsenic poisoning?
This page presents an explanation of the issues, links to the reference sources and a bottom line conclusion.
A known carcinogen, inorganic arsenic also has been associated with skin lesions, developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, and diabetes. Chronic arsenic exposure can initially cause gastrointestinal problems and skin discoloration or lesions. Signs of chronic low-level arsenic exposure can be mistaken for other ailments such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
Inorganic arsenic, the sum of arsenite (As+3) and arsenate (As+5), is generally considered more toxic than organic arsenic, and some organic species in food (such as arsenobetaine, commonly found in seafood) are considered nontoxic (
Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance and naturally finds its way into many foods, from apple juice and rice to meats like chicken, but usually in trace amounts.
Older pesticides (now banned) contained arsenic, which led to a build-up of arsenic in soils, which can still find its way into foods. Arsenic was also used in a preservative for pressure-treating wood (that was banned in 2003) , which is commonly used for decks and playground equipment. Consumer Reports has an interactive map of the known contamination of groundwater here.
Imported foods, from countries with no or lax standards or poor enforcement, like China (from which much apple juice is imported to the U.S.) also accounts for the presence of some arsenic in our food.
Consumer reports, the FDA and Dr. Oz all say that arsenic levels in apple juice can exceed chronic risk levels. The Consumer reports study, included tests of apple and grape juice (download a PDF of the complete test results),
On July 12, 2013, the
Food and Drug Administration said it will set a new limit on the level of
arsenic allowed in apple juice, at 10 parts per billlion (ppb), the
level allowed in drinking water.
Any apple juice that contains more than 10 ppb could be removed from the market and its manufacturers could risk legal action, according to the FDA.
The former acting head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Richard Besser, challenged Dr. Oz on Good Morning America in 2011, calling his report "extremely irresponsible," since the study considered only total levels of arsenic, making no difference between naturally occurring organic arsenic (which also passes quickly through the body), and inorganic arsenic, which is considered to be carcinogenic.
A few months later, Consumer Reports published the results of its own investigation, finding that 95% of the 94 samples of apple juice in its study met the 10 ppb drinking water standard for inorganic arsenic and all samples passed for total arsenic .
Many sources say that children under 6 shouldn't be drinking much juice anyway, because it's high in calories. Health experts say children under 6 shouldn't drink any more than 6 ounces of juice a day — about the size of a juice box. Infants under 6 months shouldn't drink any juice at all.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said on July 12, 2013 that children should be encouraged to eat whole fruit adding, "it is not necessary to offer children any juice to have a well-balanced, healthy diet."
And an obvious trick is to dilute your apple juice with water: that will cut calories, cut the cost and also reduce the amount of arsenic consumed!
So we're left with trying to avoid drinking quarts of apple juice each day and drinking more water instead. Beyond that...don't worry!
Many of the references are found by links throughout the article above, but are present here for clarity:
This page was updated on