AGES Report: Intake of arsenic via foodstuff

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Changed on: 15.02.2017

Arsenic is a widespread contaminant which is known due to its toxicity. It occurs naturally as an element in many minerals. Man releases arsenic for example through mining, industry and the burning of fossil fuels. Earlier, arsenic was used in the manufacture of pesticides, fertilisers and wood preservatives. Use for this purpose is banned today. Arsenic can find its way via these various routes into the soil and into sea water and thus into the food chain. As far as the general population are concerned the main source of arsenic intake is through food.

Arsenic is a widespread contaminant which is known due to its toxicity. It occurs naturally as an element in many minerals. Man releases arsenic for example through mining, industry and the burning of fossil fuels. Earlier, arsenic was used in the manufacture of pesticides, fertilisers and wood preservatives. Use for this purpose is banned today. Arsenic can find its way via these various routes into the soil and into sea water and thus into the food chain. As far as the general population are concerned the main source of arsenic intake is through food.

Toxicity

Toxicity

Inorganic arsenic has been categorised by the IARC - International Agency for Research on Cancer as a Group 1 substance “carcinogenic to humans” since it has been possible to establish a connection between high intake of inorganic arsenic and skin, lung and bladder cancer. The European Food Safety Authority - EFSA set various Benchmark Doses (BMDL01 values) ranging between 0.3 – 8 µg/kg body weight (KG)/Day for the purposes of risk characterisation and MOE calculation (Margin of Exposure). The MOE is a ratio of two factors which assesses for a given population the dose at which a small but measurable adverse effect is first observed (reference point - BMDL) and the level of exposure of consumers to the substance considered.

Testing

Testing

In the period from January 2007 to June 2014 the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) tested a total of 1,080 samples for total arsenic. However, it is important to differentiate between the different types of arsenic since the different types have varying levels of toxicity (inorganic arsenic is more toxic than organic arsenic). For this reason, using the EFSA conversion factors (2009) figures for total arsenic content were converted into content levels of inorganic arsenic. Rice (with an average inorganic arsenic content of 101 µg/kg) and algae (1.901 µg/kg) were found to be particularly heavily contaminated with inorganic arsenic. With regard to the high value in algae it is to be noted that only four samples of algae have been tested for arsenic in Austria to date. Admittedly in the group “fish and seafood” a high average content of total arsenic was measured yet the content of inorganic arsenic is low (31 µg/kg). The intake of inorganic arsenic via different foodstuffs has been calculated using average content figures for inorganic arsenic in foods and average consumption amounts for children, men and women. Rice has been identified as the most significant intake source for inorganic arsenic for the Austrian population (31% - 36%) followed by the food product groups “bread and rolls” and “fruit and fruit products” (10% - 15%).

Using currently available data the following estimated exposure figures were established for the Austrian population: On average children consume 0.15 µg, women 0.16 µg and men 0.13 µg of inorganic arsenic per kilogramme of bodyweight per day. Persons consuming large amounts of rice and “bread and rolls” or rice and “fruit and fruit products” consume on average 0.29 µg (children), 0.44 µg (women) and 0.39 µg (men) of inorganic arsenic per KG per day.

The calculated exposure compared with inorganic arsenic is therefore within the range of the BMDL01 values of 0.3 - 8 µg/kg KG/day. The is therefore no or only a low MOE. In its 2009 estimation of exposure the EFSA also established that there is no margin of exposure in the case of inorganic arsenic and concluded that “the possibility of a risk to some consumers cannot be excluded”* through dietary intake from all foodstuffs.[A1] 

In years to come, additional investigations should be conducted into rice-based foodstuffs, “cereals and cereal products”, “fruit and fruit products”, “vegetables and vegetable vegetable products”, as well as “milk and milk products”. This will allow total consumption for the Austrian population to be estimated more accurately.


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