A storm of bad publicity could be about to blow up for some US baby food manufacturers. It’s been reported that substantial amounts of arsenic have been discovered in a sweetener used as one of the primary ingredients in two, as yet unnamed baby formulas.
The sweetener, which is a type of organic brown rice syrup, was discovered in two of 17 baby formulas tested, according to researchers at Dartmouth College, whose report “Arsenic, Organic Foods, and Brown Rice Syrup” was published in Environmental Health Perspectives earlier today.
Being a naturally occurring element, arsenic is known for its tendency to penetrate groundwater, the report explains. Rice is one of the crops that is most susceptible to arsenic penetration because it has a natural tendency to absorb the poison, reported Bloomberg.
Dr. Brian Jackson, director of Dartmouth College’s Trace Element Analysis Core Facility, carried out his study in order to determine whether or not arsenic was present in certain food products made using organic brown rice, selecting 17 different baby formulas, 29 cereal bars and three energy drinks for the test.
Just two of the baby formulas tested (one dairy-based, one soy-based) had organic brown rice syrup listed as one of its primary ingredients, and both of these were discovered to contain around 20 times the amount of arsenic found in the other formulas (which did not list organic brown rice as a main ingredient).
The concentration of arsenic in one of the formulas was found to be six times greater than the safe water drinking limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb), as proscribed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Even more worrying was the concentration of inorganic arsenic in the two formulas. Inorganic arsenic is the most toxic form of the poison, and was found to be present at a level of 8.6 ppb in the dairy-based baby formula and a shocking 21.4 ppb in the soy-based baby formula.
Aside from the baby foods, a number of cereal bars and energy drinks containing organic brown rice syrup were found to contain significantly higher concentrations of arsenic than those which used alternative ingredients, according to the research.
Dr. Jackson told Bloomberg that the findings were particularly concerning for infants, who are “most at risk for consuming too much arsenic via food,” as many would eat the same baby formula day in, day out. However, Dr. Jackson said the risk for those who eat an occasional cereal bar was still very low and nothing to be concerned over.
So what of the health risks for those who do consume too much arsenic?
According to Dr. Jackson, we are not going to drop dead all of a sudden from arsenic poisoning, but there are a number of long term health risks:
“All we can fall back on is what we know about exposure through drinking water; risk of certain cancers or heart disease is slightly elevated in drinking water with a certain level of arsenic.”
Dr. Jackson advised that parents should check carefully to see if the baby formula they use lists organic brown rice as a primary ingredient, and to limit their children’s exposure to any formulas that do.