A research team led by Brian Jackson of the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Project has documented high levels of inorganic arsenic in brown rice syrup used as a sweetener in many “organic” processed foods.

The Dartmouth Toxic Metals website is a useful resource for food science professionals interested in trace metals in food products.



BACKGROUND: Rice can be a major source of inorganic arsenic (Asi) for many sub-populations. Rice products are also used as ingredients in prepared foods, some of which may not be obviously rice-based. Organic brown rice syrup (OBRS) is used as a sweetener in organic food products as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup. We hypothesized that OBRS introduces arsenic into these products.

OBJECTIVE: We determined the concentration and speciation of arsenic (As) in commercially available brown rice syrups, and in products containing OBRS including infant formula, cereal/energy bars, and high energy foods used by endurance athletes.

METHODS: We used ICP-MS and IC-ICP-MS to determine total As (Astotal) concentrations and As speciation in products purchased via the internet or in stores in the Hanover, NH area.

DISCUSSION: We found that OBRS can contain high concentrations of Asi and dimethylarsenate (DMA). An ‘organic’ infant milk formula containing OBRS as the primary ingredient had Astotal concentrations up to six times the EPA safe drinking water limit. Cereal bars and high energy foods containing OBRS also had higher As concentrations than equivalent products that did not contain OBRS. Inorganic As was the main As species in the majority of food products tested in this study.

CONCLUSIONS: There are currently no US regulations applicable to As in food, but our findings suggest that the OBRS products we evaluated may introduce significant concentrations of Asi to an individual’s diet. Thus, we conclude that there is an urgent need for regulatory limits on As in food.

Citation: Jackson BP, et al., Arsenic, Organic Foods, and Brown Rice Syrup, Environ Health Perspect, on-line 2 Feb 2-12.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104619

Since Environmental Health Perspectives is an open-source journal published by NIH, the full article is downloadable from the Dartmouth or NIH websites.