Sen. Schumer calls on FDA to set arsenic standards in juices

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday asked the Food and Drug Administration to set limits on inorganic arsenic levels in juice concentrate in the U.S. and from imports from China.

The subject received increased attention last week after “The Dr. Oz Show,” a daytime television talk show, did an investigation that found some juices contain higher levels of arsenic than are allowed in the nation’s drinking water.

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While Schumer and the FDA have questioned the show's methodology, since the study didn’t discriminate between organic and inorganic arsenic, the senator tweeted that standards, similar to the ones found in drinking water, should be adopted — especially on imports from China.

“Many juice concentrates are now imported from China, a country infamous for lax standards and the rampant use of toxic additives and chemicals, including inorganic arsenic, in their food supply,” Schumer’s office said in a press release Monday.

Schumer’s office cited a 2008 FDA study that found elevated levels of inorganic arsenic in pear juice. The U.S. has since allowed ports to detain pear juice imported from certain Chinese manufacturers.

When contacted about Schumer's letter, a representative from the FDA's Office of Public Affairs said that the "FDA will respond directly to the senator."

Small amounts of both organic and inorganic arsenic are found in the soil and groundwater, according to the FDA website, but only inorganic arsenic is harmful when consumed; trace amounts remain from pesticides used in the 1970s containing arsenic that have since been banned. The FDA said it has been testing for arsenic in juices for years and that "there is currently no evidence to suggest a public health risk from fruit juices."

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency has set standards for inorganic arsenic in bottled water at 10 parts per billion. But juices aren’t regulated, partly because they are not consumed with the same frequency that water is, according to the FDA site.

Schumer made clear that there is not an immediate threat and children should not stop drinking juice. He also recommended using a larger volume of domestic fruit in juice concentrates. Currently, 70 percent of apple juice concentrate is imported from China, according to Schumer’s office. 

This article was updated on Sept. 20 at 11:55 a.m.