Q. What is arsenic?
Arsenic is a chemical widely distributed in the environment. It occurs in soil, water – both sea and fresh – and in almost all plants and animal tissues. As a result, arsenic occurs naturally at very low levels in many foods and it is not possible to avoid it completely.
For more detailed information refer to the FSAI factsheet on Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Tin and Arsenic in Food.
Q. Organic versus Inorganic?
How harmful the arsenic is depends on the chemical form in which it is present. The organic form is less harmful than the inorganic form which can cause cancer.
Q. What is the particular concern about rice?
Rice and rice products have higher levels of the inorganic form of arsenic compared with other food, because rice is particularly efficient at absorbing arsenic from soil and irrigation water.
Q. What is the advice from the European Food Safety Authority?
In September 2009, the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Expert Panel on Contaminants recommended that dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic should be reduced. As a consequence, EU wide regulation of inorganic arsenic in rice, specific rice products including rice cakes and rice destined of production for food for infants and young children was implemented in 2015. Furthermore, EFSA recommended that data should be generated on inorganic arsenic for different food commodities, to support dietary exposure assessment in order to refine the risk assessment of inorganic arsenic.
Q. What are the current regulations?
Following the EFSA opinion, EU wide regulation of inorganic arsenic in rice, specific rice products including rice cakes and rice destined for production of food for infants and young children was implemented and maximum limits (ML) came into force in January 2016 (Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/1006). A monitoring recommendation for inorganic arsenic in foodstuffs was subsequently published in August 2015 (Commission Recommendation (EU) 2015/1381).
In Ireland, there is a general limit of 1 mg/kg for total arsenic in food. Some separate limits apply to certain food categories, such as yeast, gelatin, certain beverages, etc. contained in S.I. No.44 of 1972 - Health (Arsenic and Lead in Food) Regulations, 1972. For water intended for human consumption (Council Directive 98/83/EC) a parametric value of 10 μg/L is established without distinguishing forms of arsenic, whilst for natural mineral waters (Commission Directive 2003/40/EC) a ML of 10 μg/L is laid down for total arsenic.
Q. Is it safe for my child to consume rice and/or rice products?
It is important that children have a balanced diet that is not dominated by any one particular food. Preliminary results from the latest total diet study for adults and children in Ireland indicate that average exposure to inorganic arsenic is below the reference range set by EFSA.
Q. What is the FSAI doing?
The FSAI has contributed to discussions in Europe to set maximum regulatory limits for inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products and these limits came into force in January 2016 (see Commission Recommendation (EU) 2015/1381).
The FSAI is currently evaluating results of the most recent total diet study, which indicates that average exposure to inorganic arsenic is below the reference range set by EFSA.
The FSAI has also increased the sampling and analysis of rice and rice products for inorganic arsenic and added foodstuffs listed in the monitoring recommendation for inorganic arsenic to the national monitoring programme. The FSAI provides all available data to EFSA on a regular basis.
Q. Has the FSAI previously provided advice on consumption of certain foods with regard to arsenic?
Yes, on consumption of rice milks and Hijiki seaweed
Last reviewed: 27/6/2018