Organic Brown Rice Syrup and Arsenic, My Take on the Matter

Written by Max Goldberg on February 18, 2012. Follow Max on Twitter: @livingmaxwell.

There is a new arsenic controversy in the news. Instead of apple juice, this time it is organic brown rice syrup.

Researchers from Dartmouth College announced in Environmental Health Perspectives that they discovered very high levels of inorganic (not naturally occurring) arsenic in organic baby products, whose top ingredient was brown rice syrup.

While the EPA regulates the amount of arsenic in water, no more than 10 parts per billion is allowed, there are no such standards for arsenic in food, except for fruit juice.

So, when the researchers did their testing, they found that the arsenic levels in the organic baby food were 6 times higher than the allowable limits for water.

Even though other products, such as energy shots and cereal bars failed this arsenic test as well, the organic baby formula raised more of a red flag because this is the primary source of nutrition for babies.

RESPONSE FROM THE ORGANIC INDUSTRY

Nature’s One, the manufacturer of organic baby formulas whose primary ingredient is organic brown rice syrup, said in a statement that it “uses a qualified, world-renowned, third-party, independent lab to test arsenic levels in their organic brown rice syrup. Their testing results report undetectable amounts of arsenic at laboratory testing limits.”

On its website, Nature’s One points to a test by The Environmental & Science Technology, which was completed in 2007.

Lundberg Family Farms, the most prominent manufacturer of organic brown rice syrup, said that it would further investigate these claims but that it “stands behind the safety, nutritional value and health benefits of all our rice products.”

MY TAKE

I have had several reactions to this piece of news.

1) While I am not an organic chemistry expert, is it reasonable to compare arsenic levels in food to arsenic levels in water? Are we comparing apples to oranges? Maybe, maybe not.

I’d say we are drinking a lot more water than we are consuming food.

2) Even though I promote organic food on my site, does constantly feeding a toddler food, whose primary ingredient is organic brown rice syrup, make a lot of sense?

Why does a two-month old need to be eating a sweetener at all? He or she doesn’t.

Is it going to cause damage if a baby eats this organic food formula every now and then? Probably not.

3) Am I going to stay away from organic brown rice syrup because of this report?

No, but I will continue to eat all sweeteners in moderation.

At the end of the day, I believe that this arsenic controversy is just another smear campaign against organic. Organic is by far the healthiest food we can be eating but the growth of the industry poses a serious threat to Big Ag and major consumer products companies.

To me, much bigger issues are the real health concerns of genetically-modified foods, toxic pesticides, and growth hormones in our dairy and meats. These are things that truly endanger our health but how much media attention do they get?

None.

I am not dismissing the seriousness of arsenic in organic brown rice syrup and organic baby products, as it needs to be investigated and the EPA needs to establish arsenic limits for all foods.

However, the lack of labeling of genetically-engineered foods and the atrocious quality of our water supply are two issues that Americans need to be much more concerned about.

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I will keep you posted as developments unfold about this matter with arsenic and organic brown rice syrup, and will speak to Lundberg and Nature’s One when I am at Natural Products Expo West in a few weeks.

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2 Comments

  1. Nobody seems to have commented here, so just adding a comment to this as a mom who primarily buys organic. I really didn’t take these findings to be a smear against organic, as arsenic is prevalent in rice as a whole, not just organic rice products. The difference is that it is one thing that “organic” just doesn’t solve. As for the baby foods, it is not the “brown rice syrup” in baby foods, but brown rice, itself, and this would be specific to organic baby food lines because they are the ones to incorporate whole grains into their jarred baby foods. My daughters are 5 and 7 and well past the baby food, but they did eat a lot of that brown rice food, and I’m not going to lose sleep over it, either. But if I was a new mom now, I would probably opt for non-rice grains, with a clearer understanding of this. As for the brown rice syrup, it is in nearly EVERY organic granola bar or breakfast bar type of product (my personal solution: now I make my own granola bars for my kids using local honey as the sweetener- not just because of the brown rice syrup, but because of soy protein, and other things that I don’t want my kids eating regularly that make their way into processed organic food). Also, white rice has much lower arsenic content than brown, for the same reason that brown has more nutrients- the stripping process removes some of the arsenic. But I’m not going to start shoving white rice at my kids instead. One thing I read of interest was that the arsenic content is largely dependent on where the rice is grown- rice grown in the southeast has high content, rice grown in California has low content. Lundberg Farms organic rice is stated to be grown in California- so I have been buying theirs for my family.

    Anyway, I stumbled onto your blog today and have enjoyed much of what you have to say about food. I think the rice/arsenic issue just may seem more important to someone who has small children, and thought they were being wise in buying organic baby food or organic snacks, and understands that children’s bodies do not remove toxins in the same way as adults… and what we feed them is setting a trajectory for their lives.

    Written by Robin on March 19, 2012 @ 2:50 pm
  2. Hi Robin,

    Thank you for your extremely insightful comment.

    You are correct in that organic does not solve this issue at all. When I was at Expo West a week ago, I had extensive conversations on this very topic with companies who produce organic brown rice syrup (I also spoke briefly with Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Farms) and I’ll be doing a following up piece on this sometime soon. There is a lot to it.

    Yet, I still believe that this was a smear against organic because rice, as a whole, was not excoriated. Just organic brown rice being fed to babies.

    Thanks again for your comment.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on March 19, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

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