It’s no secret that infants eat traces of arsenic with every bite of rice cereal. Widespread reporting on the problem began five years ago, when tests by Consumer Reports found arsenic in rice and rice-based foods, including infant rice cereal.
Rice readily absorbs arsenic from the environment, about 10 times more of it than other grains. Rice cereal is babies’ top source of arsenic exposure.
Widespread concern and public pressure – combined with growing science on arsenic’s toxicity at low doses – should have spurred the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the cereal industry to take high-arsenic cereals off store shelves. It hasn’t happened. Arsenic is strictly regulated in drinking water, but is legal in any amount in infant rice cereal. It is a potent human carcinogen and a neurotoxin shown to permanently reduce children’s IQ.
In first-ever tests of new, non-rice infant cereals, Healthy Babies Bright Futures and our partner organizations report that average arsenic levels in infant rice cereals are six times higher than in other infant cereals.
- We tested over 100 cereals made from a wide range of grains (including rice) from many well-known brands, including Gerber, Earth’s Best, Beech-Nut, Nestlé, and five others. Comprehensive lists and data are in the report.
- Our tests show 84% less arsenic in non-rice and multi-grain cereals than in infant rice cereal, on average. All but one of the 42 containers of infant rice cereal we tested had more arsenic than any of the 63 other cereals included in our study.
- FDA has failed to finalize its 2016 proposed limit for arsenic in infant cereal. Our results suggest that cereal makers have already taken steps to limit arsenic. We found 85 ppb of arsenic, on average, in rice cereals tested in 2016 and 2017, versus the 103 ppb average level FDA found in 2013 and 2014. This decrease is NOT enough to protect infants.
- Our tests are from a nationally accredited laboratory and have been released with the support of doctors, experts, and other organizations.
Our study also uncovered some good news and actionable items for cereal companies, the FDA and parents.
Our research bolsters a body of evidence supporting the need for cereal makers to take immediate steps to reduce arsenic in their cereals. Solutions suggested by FDA and other experts include sourcing rice from fields with lower arsenic levels in soil, growing it with natural soil additives that reduce arsenic uptake by the roots, growing rice strains less prone to arsenic uptake, rinsing rice or preparing it with excess water that is poured off, and blending it with lower arsenic grains in multi-grain products.
- FDA should act immediately to set an enforceable, health-based limit for arsenic in infant rice cereal and other rice-based foods. The limit should protect infants from both cancer and neurological harm.
- Parents who include infant rice cereal in their baby’s diet can immediately lower their child’s arsenic exposures simply by switching to oatmeal, multi-grain, and other non-rice cereals.