In recent years, manufacturers of baby food and energy bars have been increasingly turning to perceived healthier sweeteners like brown rice syrup for their products. Despite this well-intended endeavor, there are potentially serious unintended consequences to this sweetener. According to researches from Dartmouth College, brown syrup rice contains alarming levels of arsenic that are up to six times higher than the acceptable arsenic levels in water. These high levels of arsenic may cause serious personal injury or death.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in soil and water. At very high levels, arsenic can be deadly. Even in lower levels, arsenic can cause various medical symptoms like nausea and vomiting. Arsenic also decreases the amount of red and white blood cells produced in the body. Further, arsenic can cause abnormal heart rhythms and may damage blood vessels as well as cause abnormal sensations in hands and feet.
Less is known about the impact of long term and continuous exposure to low levels of arsenic. However, arsenic is associated with higher rates of skin, bladder, and lung cancer, says Navas-Acien, assistant professor of environmental health sciences and epidemiology at John Hopkins in Baltimore. "When a substance is a carcinogen, it's generally a carcinogen through the whole range of exposure levels," says Acien.
The Environmental Protection Agency imposes limits on the amount of arsenic that are allowed in drinking water. Surprisingly, there are no US regulations on the amount of arsenic that can be contained in the food we eat. The amount of arsenic found in some baby food and energy bars from brown syrup rice is as much as six times higher than the acceptable amount of arsenic in drinking water, according to Dartmouth researchers. Given the lack of regulation surrounding arsenic in food, many suggest there is an urgent need for such regulations that food manufacturers must follow before distributing their food, including food to our babies.
Brown rice likely contains high levels of arsenic as a result of a natural process, rather than anything man made. Indeed, there is arsenic in soil that accumulates in plants. This arsenic builds up in the outmost layer of the plants that, ultimately, makes its way into brown rice.
Dartmouth researchers analyzed 17 different baby formulas, 2 of which contained organic brown rice syrup. In the 15 baby formulas without brown rice syrup, the total arsenic concentrations were between 2 and 12 ng/g. In the two baby formulas that did contain organic brown rice syrup, the concentrations of arsenic were 20 times higher.
Researchers from Dartmouth also tested cereal-based energy bars for levels of arsenic. Bars with brown rice syrup also contained much higher level of arsenic than those that did not contain brown rice syrup. The same is true for so-called energy shots containing brown rice syrup.
If manufacturers wish to avoid costly product liability lawsuits involving personal injury or wrongful death, they should consider eliminating brown rice syrup from their ingredients--particularly in baby formula. There are plenty of other sweeteners are far safer for consumers. Otherwise, it is probably only a matter of time before these high levels of arsenic are determined to cause serious injury or premature death.
MedPage Today, Arsenic Found In Formula, Energy Bars, February 16, 2012.
Huffington Post, Is There Arsenic In My Baby Formula?, February 22, 2012.
WebMd, Arsenic In Food: FAQ, February 23, 2012.