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.

  • Claudia Crowder

    Please post which brands had the issue so we can address it with those companies!

  • Steve

    This study only narrowly looks at the uptake of arsenic from soil by brown rice crops used in organic production (as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup). The bigger question consumers might want to consider is where did the arsenic come from — and where else does it show up in our food supply??
    Although arsenic is an element that naturally occurs in soils and groundwater, it is usually present at lower concentrations. However, unlike conventional agricultural practices which use large amounts of arsenic-based herbicide, insecticide and feed formulations — organic agriculture strictly prohibits their use — as well as a wide range of toxic pesticides with documented negative health and environmental effects that end up on and in our food supply on a daily basis.
    Fact is, in addition to the current reliance on arsenic-based pesticides — persistent residues from sixty-some years of postwar conventional chemical farming operations have left a buildup of arsenic (and other pesticides) residues in our soils (and drinking and irrigation water) that has become the inheritance of our food supply today — affecting both conventional and organic agriculture.
    Along with the persistent neurotoxin pesticides in our food system, arsenic contamination is a worrisome problem, especially for children. Crop contamination from these residues represents a major challenge for organic — as well as for our whole food system. While some heavily chemically-farmed soils will contain pesticide hot spots well into the future (if not forever) other soils still have low levels that can safely grow crops like rice which are known to extract arsenic.
    All in all, organic agriculture is a major part of the solution. Organic soil building practices have been shown to remediate toxic soil conditions — and unlike today’s chemical ag methods they are not still adding more and more…

  • Nancy Fleming

    If I tell you I’m going to drop by your house today and put “JUST A LITTLE ARSENIC in your water,food, and babies food”—-Would you let me?
    I wonder where that brown rice is grown,and what pesticide is on it,or the land it’s grown on?

  • Consumer Reports has an article on the issue of arsenic in rice. Rice that is grown in areas previously used for cultivation of cotton, such as the Carolinas, seems to have the highest content, apparently from the pesticides applied during cotton production. Rice grown in California has lower arsenic content, but it is still there because arsenic is also a natural mineral in certain types of rocks. Without better guidance, the best thing is to avoid baby products sweetened with brown rice syrup. At a recent talk at Dartmouth (I live and work in the Dartmouth area), the researcher noted that rinsing rice and cooking it like pasta in lots of water that you then throw out will leach out much of the arsenic. At the same time, he said that unless one eats rice on a daily basis, exposure for adults is not dangerous.

  • Where are all these products being manufactured? Has got to be an answer for that! As consumers need to know!! There has to be a recall on main items the organizations must list them!!!

  • Heather

    Organic food can have arsenic and it is good for you. If it was bad for you they couldn’t say it was organic. It is good to get a little sick sometimes to get a strong immunity. That is why organic food costs more. Anything with brown rice is good for you. When companies make food too pure that is very bad for you.

  • Also, Heather, people don’t appreciate the difference between sustainable arsenic and industrial arsenic.

  • M. “Mike” Mychajlonka, Ph. D.

    I think a typographic error was made in this article. Specifically, the statement: “One of the “energy shot” drinks registered at 84 ppm.” I don’t see, in the published article being cited (B. P. Jackson et. al, 2012) that the Dartmouth investigators found ANY arsenic level in the parts per million range. All values I saw reported were in the range of parts per billion (ppb or nanogram per gram). Also, I don’t see that this article mentioned the point that the arsenic levels which were found were speciated by the study’s authors who state in their article: “Moreover, the major As species is the more toxic Asi in the overwhelming majority of food products we
    have tested.” I hope we don’t hear (as we did initially in the reports of arsenic in fruit juice) any more pathetic arguments regarding the toxicological merits of organic vs. inorganic arsenic.

  • Lee

    Funny, why aren’t the Darthmouth investigators researching GMO’S!!! Maybe this research was funded by Monsanto. I will never ever eat anything with corn syrup !! Why aren’t we seeing anything about GMO’s in the national news!! Just discussing, I for one will never not eat organic rice or anything with organic rice syrup.

  • Bob Garcia

    My wife has been eating these “Go Naturally” hard organic candies like crazy, to help with her larynx reflux….after having burning throat being worse, we are wondering if this is the reason why…they are made with organic brown rice syrup….

  • Mary Ellen

    Funny how, just months after Dr. Oz exposed the dangerous arsenic levels in apple juice on national TV… now “oh, let’s put the attention on organic brown rice!” What a joke. We flipped in 10 years… it used to be that apple juice concentrate in the USA was about 96% from USA and 4% from China. They went berserk and cornered the market. Now, in the past decade, it went to about 96% from China and 4% from the USA. I know Asians who won’t eat anything from China! I know that not all organic food is safe. But, the timing of this article tells me that the industrial food complex wanted to deflect attention away from the toxic apple juice and GMO HFCS. I’ll take my chances with organic brown rice.

  • asa repon