FDA Finally Seeks to Limit Arsenic in Infant Food

What's the Issue with Arsenic?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it is taking steps to reduce arsenic exposure in infants. As we reported way back in 2012, as rice grows, it tends to absorb arsenic from water and soil at a higher rate relative to other foods. Arsenic exposure can cause health issues like neurotoxicity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and as the New York Times reports, "diminished intellectual function early in life." In the US, rice cereal is often infants' first food, so there is risk of arsenic exposure at a very young age, and as the Times notes, due to "relative body weight, they [infants] eat about three times as much rice as an adult."

What Do the New Guidelines Do?

In order to reduce arsenic exposure, the FDA's initial guidelines aim to set the limit or "action level" for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal at 100 parts per billion (ppb). That limit is on par with the level set by the European Commission for rice and close to the limit of 90 ppb that Consumers Union proposed three years ago. Through testing, the FDA found that 47 percent of the products they studied were below the limit and 78 percent of infant rice cereal products are near or below the action level.

What Can Parents Do?

So what should parents of young children do? Based on the FDA's findings, they recommend that parents and caregivers continue to feed babies iron-fortified foods, but that rice should not be the only grain fed to infants. They say that babies should have a varied diet that includes oat, barley and multigrain cereals and that toddlers should have a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of grains. Through further testing of 400 "other foods commonly eaten by infants and toddlers," the FDA found that all non-rice products were below the 100 ppb limit. The FDA guidelines are now in a 90 day comment period.