main logo
Posted by Dr. Monica Wonnacott | June 3, 2016

Arsenic In Your Infant’s Rice Cereal?

I didn’t get any Facebook questions this week, so thought I would post on a topic that I have had a number of parents ask about in the last couple of months: arsenic in infant rice cereal. In April, there was a lot of press about inorganic arsenic levels found in infant rice cereal and the potential toxic effects (following a study that was published in JAMA).

Quick background

Arsenic is element in the Earth’s crust. It is found naturally in the air, water, and soil. It is also in fertilizers and pesticides. It has two forms: organic and inorganic. The inorganic form is considered the more toxic of the two forms when it’s found in food. Rice has higher levels than many other foods, because the plant and grain absorb arsenic from the environment more than other crops do.

The big deal is that infants eat lots of rice cereal, and arsenic isn’t good for you.

What is the harm?

Exposure to arsenic is associated with bad pregnancy outcomes. It is also has some bad brain effects early on in life.

What is being done about it?

In response, the FDA has proposed a limit or “action level” of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. In April, the FDA released results of a study they conducted from 2014 that showed of 76 samples of rice cereal sampled from retail stores, 47% were at the recommended 100 ppb already (and 78% were close at 110 ppb or less). Little aside, this recommended 100 ppb is the level the European Food Safety Authority is already at.

What is a parent to do?

Don’t freak out that you’ve caused permanent brain damage to your child because you gave your little one some rice cereal (like all the rest of us did). Chances are he or she is just fine. It also doesn’t mean that you need to avoid rice cereal completely. I would, however (now this is Dr. Wonnacott’s opinion only), try and offer a good variety. Try many different grains (barley, oats, wheat, multi-grain cereals, etc.). Your baby won’t be as bored, and it’s more nutritionally sound anyhow.