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Arsenic in Rice - Some Facts

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Levels of arsenic in foods intended for infants

A legislative limit of 0.1mg/kg wet weight was introduced in June 2015 for rice destined for the production of foods intended for infants, which came into force on 1 January 2016. Prior to Regulation 2015/1006, there were no previous EU regulations on arsenic in foods for infants.

Research carried out at Queens University Belfast by Professor Meharg and colleagues and reported in the media was carried out using products bought in February 2016. This was one month after the application of the legislative requirements.  It is likely that all samples were manufactured before the legislation came into force. Article 2 of Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/1006 states that 'Foodstuffs not complying with these maximum levels which are lawfully placed on the market prior to the date of application may continue to be marketed after that date until their date of minimum durability or use-by-date.'

There have been no validated reports of children or babies becoming ill from the very small amounts of arsenic found in these products. Healthcare associations continue to encourage parents to feed babies a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of iron-rich infant cereals including oatmeal, wheat, multigrain or rice, starting at six months of age.

If any safety concern existed in relation to the products on the market before January, 2016, they would have been withdrawn from the market. This did not happen confirming the safety of these products.

We are confident, should the research be repeated now, that rice products designed for infants and young children produced by our members would meet the stringent EU food safety regulations.

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Arsenic occurs naturally in a wide range of foods at low levels due to the presence of arsenic in air, soil and water. Rice, an important contributor to a balanced and healthy diet, is known to concentrate more inorganic arsenic compared to other cereals.

The safety of products is the top priority for BSNA members. Manufacturers carefully select and rigorously check all their raw materials to ensure they are safe and strictly compliant with current food safety regulations.

Industry has been working proactively to reduce the levels of arsenic in food and it has been a focus of ongoing, long-term research. BSNA works across industry and with regulators in the UK and Europe to further increase our shared understanding of arsenic in foods.   

As a baby grows and breast milk or infant formula alone are no longer sufficient to fulfil their nutritional requirements, weaning starts.  Weaning is the gradual introduction of a wide range of foods.  Advice is therefore to start with very simple and low allergenic cereals such as rice or maize/corn mixed with the baby’s usual milk.  Only one or two spoons may be taken for the first few attempts.

Rice based cereals are often used for a short time until other cereals, vegetables and fruit can be added as the baby’s digestive system matures and can cope with other types of food.

For further information, please contact Declan O'Brien on 07889487261, declan.obrien@bsna.co.uk