The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Friday proposed a lower limit on "inorganic" arsenic in infant rice cereal. The agency recommended a limit of 100 parts per billion, similar to recommendations already in place in Europe.
About half the infant rice cereals the FDA sampled from retail stores in 2014 were already in compliance, but the agency said rice cereal is a leading source of arsenic exposure in infants because relative to their body weight, infants eat about three times more rice than adults.
Arsenic exposure has been linked to diminished intellectual functions early in life, as well as adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as stillbirth.
"The proposed limit is a prudent and achievable step," said Susan Mayne of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
"We have worked closely with our trusted rice supplier and their growers as well as researchers from agricultural universities to achieve some of the lowest levels of this element in U.S. grown rice," Gerber, the largest manufacturer of baby rice cereal in the U.S., said in a statement Friday.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cheered the move Friday and recommended that doctors should counsel women who are planning a pregnancy or are pregnant about levels of inorganic arsenic found in various rice products.
While arsenic occurs naturally in soil and water, fertilizers and pesticides are also sources of arsenic. As rice plants tend to absorb more arsenic than other plants while growing, they generally contain higher levels of inorganic arsenic than other foods, according to the FDA.
Though infant rice cereal is widely used in the U.S., the FDA recommended using other iron-fortified cereals such as oat, barley and multigrain, along with rice cereal for infants.
The agency also quoted research that found cooking rice in excess water — six to 10 parts water to one part rice — and then draining the excess water can reduce inorganic arsenic levels in the rice by 40 to 60 percent.