Posted on: July 07, 2021

Arsenic: what you need to know

What is arsenic and where is it found?

Arsenic is a natural component of the Earth and is widely found in the environment in the air, soil and water. Consequently, arsenic can be found in a wide range of foods, such as grains, although, rice is known to concentrate more inorganic arsenic compared to other cereals.

Regulating arsenic levels in the specialist food industry

With the above in mind, Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/1006 (retained UK law) was introduced in June 2015 and lays down maximum levels (MLs) of inorganic arsenic in foodstuffs. A legislative limit of 0.1mg/kg is set for rice destined for the production of food for infants and young children. This is one third the level allowed for rice wafers, crackers and cakes for the general population. These levels came into force in January 2016 and amend Commission Regulation EU 1881/2006.

What is industry doing?

Manufacturers of foods intended for infants and young children are very proactive in the continued reduction of arsenic in foods - a focus of ongoing, long-term research. They take great care to carefully source and select raw materials, all of which are rigorously checked, to ensure the lowest levels possible.

BSNA works across industry and with regulators in the UK and Europe to further increase the shared understanding of arsenic in foods, and to ensure the appropriate legislative and safety measures are in place.

Is there cause for concern?

Representing the companies who provide baby food, safety is our top priority and the industry complies with the legislation which requires that rice entering the production process meets very strict limits. Minimal variation may occur around analysis but the Food Standards Agency (FSA) would not allow unsafe product to remain on the market.

It is also important to acknowledge this is not a baby foods specific issue and as per the regulations, levels in baby specific foods are much lower than other general rice based products. This was highlighted in the recent FSA survey of arsenic.[1] Therefore, parents can be reassured by the fact that the limits for baby food are up to three times lower than for the equivalent general foods and that they can confidently choose baby foods for infants under 36 months.

Rice in the infant’s diet

Rice is an important contributor to a balanced and healthy diet, and a staple food source for many. Rice based cereals are often used as an important part of the weaning stage of an infant’s diet; healthcare associations continue to encourage parents to feed babies a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of infant cereals including oatmeal, wheat, multigrain or rice, from first weaning. Advice is to start weaning with very simple and low allergenic cereals such as rice or maize/corn mixed with the baby’s usual milk.

Reducing arsenic levels in the home

• Feed your baby or young child a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of infant cereals including oatmeal, wheat, multigrain or rice, starting at six months of age.

• Feed your baby or young child age-appropriate rice products.

[1] FSA, Infant Metals Survey: A survey of metals and other elements in commercial infant foods, infant formula and non-infant specific foods. Conducted by: HallMark Veterinary Services Ltd. (October 2013-February 2014) Published 26 June 2018.

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