The issue of arsenic in commercial food items is coming up once again with a recent University of Belfast study that reveals nearly three-quarters of all baby rice products sold in the European Union were contaminated with high levels of arsenic.
Arsenic is virtually unavoidable in everyday life because of its natural presence in the water and soil around which we live and grow our crops. However, there are certain safety thresholds established in both the European Union and the United States, beyond which arsenic becomes toxic and extremely harmful to human health. In fact, early last year, E.U. regulators and the FDA set maximum levels for arsenic in foods sold in their respective markets. What the Belfast study reveals is that, soon after the regulations came into effect, rice products were sold just the same, exposing babies and young children to risks of neurological and intestinal problems, cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, skin pigmentation and various other health issues.
Rice products, such as rice cereals or rice cakes, are more likely to be contaminated with arsenic simply because the plants tend to soak up more arsenic from the humid ground in which they grow. It would be relatively easy to make sure the contaminant is washed out of the products through percolation or other methods; however, inertia and lack of awareness or responsibility allow for these dangerous products to be sold despite stricter regulations.
Parents should be wary of rice products that are not from trusted sources or that are older, even if still well before their expiry date. If in doubt, better replace them with well-washed fruits and vegetables.