The Food and Drug Administration has warned parents against feeding their babies too much rice cereal due to levels of arsenic contained in inorganic rice.
Last Friday, the U.S. government proposed a new voluntary reduction in the amount of inorganic arsenic found in baby rice cereal. The new limit is 100 parts per billion, much like the recommendations set in Europe. Rice cereal is the leading source of arsenic exposure for babies and toddlers, and when consumed in large amounts become dangerous.
Inorganic rice contains higher levels of naturally-occurring arsenic because it tends to absorb greater amounts than other crops as it grows. Since arsenic is a known carcinogen, the FDA has performed extensive testing and a complete analysis of several studies that have linked risks for both pregnancies and developmental effects in children with high levels of exposure to inorganic arsenic.
Their findings have led them to urge manufacturers of baby rice cereal to reduce levels of inorganic arsenic. Babies are at a higher risk of exposure because, relative to body weight, they can consume up to three times more rice than the average adult. Rice cereal has long been a staple for infants and traditionally considered by many to be a “first food.”
Gerber, the nation’s leading baby rice cereal manufacturer, says it already follows the FDA’s new proposed arsenic limits. “We have worked closely with our trusted rice supplier and their growers as well as researchers from agricultural universities to achieve some of the lowest levels of this element in U.S. grown rice,” Gerber said in a statement following the agency’s release. About half of the baby rice cereals in retail stores are also in compliance.
In order to limit exposure to inorganic arsenic, the FDA recommends feeding babies a well-balanced diet. “Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients for your baby,” they added, “but it shouldn’t be the only source, and does not need to be the first source.” Other types of iron-fortified cereals that are safe for babies include multi-grain, oatmeal, and barley.