Arsenic

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Changed on: 21.03.2017

Arsenic is a metalloid that is best known because of its toxicity. It is a natural component in many minerals and is released into the atmosphere through volcanic eruptions, for example. However, arsenic is also released through mining, metallurgy and burning fossil fuels (coal, crude oil). Arsenic was previously used in the production of pesticides, fertilizers and wood preservatives, although this kind of application is prohibited today.

Arsenic occurs in different forms (inorganic and organic), which have different levels of toxicity. Inorganic arsenic -- the more toxic variety -- is found mainly in our soil, while water contains mainly organic arsenic compounds.

AGES Report: Ingestion of Arsenic via Food

Arsenic is a metalloid that is best known because of its toxicity. It is a natural component in many minerals and is released into the atmosphere through volcanic eruptions, for example. However, arsenic is also released through mining, metallurgy and burning fossil fuels (coal, crude oil). Arsenic was previously used in the production of pesticides, fertilizers and wood preservatives, although this kind of application is prohibited today.

Arsenic occurs in different forms (inorganic and organic), which have different levels of toxicity. Inorganic arsenic -- the more toxic variety -- is found mainly in our soil, while water contains mainly organic arsenic compounds.

AGES Report: Ingestion of Arsenic via Food

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on Arsenic in Food

How does arsenic behave in the body?

How does arsenic behave in the body?


Inorganic arsenic is toxic and cancerous. The ingested arsenic can spread to all body organs. If inorganic arsenic is ingested over a longer period of time, it can lead to all kinds of medical conditions, including skin damage, heart disease and various types of cancer, such as bladder and lung cancer. Arsenic can be transferred from the mother to the embryo during pregnancy.

How does arsenic get into food?

How does arsenic get into food?

As arsenic is found naturally in the Earth’s crust, it occurs in soil, water and air. It is also released into the environment through exhaust gases, waste water and its use by humans and can contaminate groundwater through when ore containing minerals is washed. Arsenic can also get into plant-based foods due to the arsenic levels in soil, the atmosphere and the water used for irrigation. Cigarette smoke also contains arsenic.

Are there foods containing more arsenic than others?

Are there foods containing more arsenic than others?

Seaweed, fish and shellfish ingest arsenic via the water and contain mainly organic arsenic compounds.
Analyses carried out by AGES in the period from 2007-2014 found high average levels of inorganic arsenic in seaweed (1,901 µg/kg) and rice (101 µg/kg). Although a high average level of arsenic could be generally measured in fish and shellfish, the actual amount of inorganic arsenic is rather low (31 µg/kg). AGES Report – Ingestion of Arsenic via food

Other international tests showed a much higher concentration of inorganic arsenic in rice products, such as rice cakes, rice pudding and rice-based drinks, than in rice itself. The reason for this has still to be determined (BfR, 2015). BfR: rice and rice-based Products contain a high amount of inorganic arsenic

What can I do to ingest less arsenic from rice and rice-based foods?

What can I do to ingest less arsenic from rice and rice-based foods?

Arsenic concentrations in rice can be reduced by washing the rice with water before cooking or by steaming the rice (EFSA, 2015). Excess water should be drained off after cooking.

On a general level, people should strive to ensure enough variety in their diets. This is also true for cereal products. As rice has been shown to have higher arsenic levels, other cereals, such as wheat (bulgur, couscous), rye, oat, spelt, six-rowed barley and gluten-free alternatives such as millet, sweet corn and pseudocereals such as buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth should be eaten, as well as potatoes.

As a preventative health measure, rice-based products, such as rice cakes, rice pudding and rice-based drinks should not be consumed on a daily basis, but only occasionally.
Even so, rice should further remain a part of a varied diet.

Are there other recommendations for babies, toddlers and children in regards to rice-based products?

Are there other recommendations for babies, toddlers and children in regards to rice-based products?

The recommendation is to not consume more than one portion of rice or rice products, such as rice cakes, rice-based snacks, per day, based on a precautionary principle for babies (up to 12 months) and toddlers (1-4 years). In addition, babies and toddlers should not consume rice or rice-based products as part of a healthy diet on a daily basis.

National and international committees recommend that babies and toddlers should not consume rice milk/rice drinks at all (FSA, 2009; Hojsak et al., 2015). Experts do not just refer to the arsenic content of these rice products, but also to their general composition: rice drinks differ greatly from the nutrient profile of breast milk, which makes them unsuitable as a breast milk substitute. These beverages should not be consumed within the first year of life as they can also contain sugar (REVAN, 2013).

Are foods currently tested for arsenic content in Austria?

Are foods currently tested for arsenic content in Austria?

AGES tests foods for arsenic content as part of its official food controls. Food will be tested for its total level of arsenic and inorganic arsenic with a focus on rice and rice products in 2015, as maximum levels for these products will come into force in Europe as of 2016.

The European Commission defined maximum levels for rice and rice-based products on 25th June, 2015. These thresholds will come into force as of 1st January, 2016.

Arsenic (inorganic)mg/kg
food
Milled rice, not parboiled (polished or white rice)0,20
Parboiled rice and brown rice 0,25
Rice cakes, rice crackers and similar products 0,30
Rice used in the production of baby and toddler food 0,10


Link to Regulation (EU) 2015/1006.

Europe-wide supervision also in years to come

On 10 August 2015 the European Commission published a recommendation on the monitoring of arsenic in foodstuffs for the years 2016, 2017 and 2018. Here a wide range of foodstuffs are to be included in order to reflect consumption habits and to enable an accurate estimation of exposure. It is recommended that the presence of arsenic be monitored in various foodstuffs such as cereal grains, cereal based products (including bran and germ), fruit and vegetable juices, drinking water (including bottled water) coffee, dry tea leaves, beer, fish and seafood, vegetables, algae products (including hijiki), milk, dairy products, food intended for infants and young children, food for special medical purposes and food supplements.

Link to Recommendation (EU) 2015/1381 by the Commission from 10th August, 2015 on the supervision of arsenic levels in foods.

Where can I find information on arsenic in food?

AGES 2015: Bericht - Aufnahme von Arsen über Lebensmittel

BfR (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung), 2015. Fortbildung für den Öffentlichen Gesundheitsdienst 2015. Berlin, 25 bis 27. März 2015. In: ÖGD-Fortbildung 2015 – Abstracts. Dr. Ulrike Pabel. 3.5 Arsen in Reis und Reisprodukten: 19-20; erfasst am 26.03.2015

BfR (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung), 2015. Presseinformation 14/2015 - Reis und Reisprodukte enthalten viel anorganisches Arsen, 11.06.2015

EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), 2015: Chemicals in food 2015: Overview of Data Collection Reports. In: Arsenic in food and drinking water: 16-19.

FSA UK (Food Standards Agency United Kingdom), 2009: Survey of total and inorganic arsenic in rice drinks. Food Survey Information Sheet 02/09. Last updated: 21 May 2009; erfasst am 08. April 2015

Hojsak I, Braegge C, Bronsky J, Campoy C, Colomb V, Decsi T, Domellöf M, Fewtrell M, Fidler Mis N, Mihatsch W, Molgaard C, van Goudoever J, 2015. Arsenic in rice: A cause of concern. Consensus Statement. For the ESPGHAN (European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition). JPGN 60: 142-145.

LGL (Bayrisches Landesamt für Gesundheit und Lebensmittelsicherheit), 2015: Anorganisches Arsen und Gesamtarsen in reishaltigen Lebensmitteln – Untersuchungsergebnisse 2013; erfasst am 19.03.2015

LGL (Bayrisches Landesamt für Gesundheit und Lebensmittelsicherheit), 2012: Untersuchungen von anorganischem Arsen in Kindernahrung; erfasst am 19.03.2015

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