Brown rice syrup used in many organic foods as a substitute for the often-chastised high fructose corn sugar is causing problems of its own with high arsenic levels.

That means danger for those consuming such products as “organic” infant milk formula, cereal bars or high energy foods that contain the organic brown rice syrup (OBRS) as an ingredient, according to a Dartmouth College research team led by Brian Jackson.

Jackson is director of Trace Metal Analysis at Dartmouth’s Department of Earth Science.

The team’s findings on arsenic in foods containing OBRS were published Thursday in Environmental Health Perspectives, the online peer-reviewed open access journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Science.

There is “an urgent need for regulatory limits” for arsenic in foods, the researchers say, as there are no current U.S. regulations that set such limits.

After testing 17 infant formulas, 27 cereal bars and three different “energy shot” drinks, the team found levels significantly above the level established for public drinking water.

In 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – using recommendations from a series of independent panels – set the limit for public drinking water at 10 parts per billion (ppb).  The earlier limit, in place since the 1940s, was 50 ppb.

Dartmouth researchers found cereal bars with inorganic arsenic levels raining from 23 to 128 ppb. One of the “energy shot” drinks registered at 84 ppb, and the two others hit 171 ppb. The infant formula came in at 8.6 ppb for dairy-based, and 21.4 ppb for soy-based.

While the cereal bars and “energy shots” returned much higher levels, Jackson is most concerned about the organic infant formulas because these are often a baby’s sole source of nutrition.

Rice plants take up arsenic through the soil because the dangerous substance behaves much like silica, which rice needs to grow.  Brown rice tends to collect arsenic in higher levels, but amounts vary.

The study’s release brought out TV doctors on most major network news shows to warn the public once again that they should not mix up “organic” with “safe.”

Others on Jackson’s team are Vivien F. Taylor, Margaret R. Karagas, Tracy Punshon and Kathryn L. Cottingham.

Arsenic at levels higher than the EPA drinking water standard have also been found recently in juices popular with children.