FDA finds small amounts of arsenic in rice

The data come from tests on more than 1,300 samples, and are part of the agency’s attempts to determine long-term risks from small amounts of the poisonous compound in rice.

The samples show average levels of arsenic ranging from about 0.1 to 7.2 micrograms per serving of rice and rice products.

Consumer interest advocates lauded the FDA’s decision to release its data.

“We’re particularly pleased that while the FDA conducts a risk assessment and takes appropriate next steps, it is giving advice to consumers, especially the most vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and children, that will help limit their arsenic exposure,” said Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports.

The agency recommends that consumers, especially infants, eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods.

Arsenic occurs naturally and bleeds into soil and water, where it can wind up in rice fields and other food sources. It also occurs as a product of human activities like mining and spraying pesticides.

Next up, the FDA is preparing a more comprehensive risk assessment to help determine the long-term threats posed by arsenic in rice.

"We don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re working on it. In collaboration with farmers, industry, academia and other public health agencies, we are doing everything possible to determine if the levels of arsenic in rice pose a long-term health risk and, if so, what can be done to reduce that risk," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg wrote in a blog post

FDA officials warned not to let anxieties about the chemical outpace their research.

"We must take one step at a time and stay true to our methodological approach," said Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner at the FDA for foods and veterinary medicine. "We can't get ahead of the science."

The FDA has been monitoring arsenic levels in food for more than 20 years.