Baby foods contain harmful levels of arsenic, new research shows

Almost half of baby foods made from rice contain unacceptable levels of inorganic arsenic despite new regulations set by the EU, new research concludes.

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Baby foods still contain unhealthy levels of arsenic

In January 2016, the European Union set a maximum limit of inorganic arsenic on manufacturers in a bid to curb associated health risks. Researchers at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s have found that despite this, 50 per cent of baby foods made from rice still contain an illegal level of inorganic arsenic.

Rice and rice-based products are a popular choice for parents, widely used during weaning, and to feed young children, due to its availability, nutritional value and relatively low allergic potential.

Babies are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of arsenic that can prevent the healthy development of a baby’s growth, IQ and immune system to name but a few.

Rice has up to ten times more inorganic arsenic than other foods, and longterm exposure can cause a variety of health problems including developmental problems, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system damage.

Babies grow rapidly, and being at a sensitive stage of development, they are known to be more vulnerable to the damaging effects of arsenic, which can inhibit their development and cause long-term health problems. Children under the age of five also eat around three times more food per body weight than adults. This implies that, relatively, they have three times greater exposures to inorganic arsenic from the same food item.

The research findings, published in the PLOS ONE journal yesterday, compared the level of arsenic in urine samples among infants who were breast-fed or formula-fed before and after weaning. Higher arsenic concentrations were found in formula-fed infants, particularly among those which includes rice-fortified formulas. Weaning further increased infants’ exposure to arsenic by up to five times more, showing the clear link between rice-based baby foods and exposure to arsenic.

What could be done about this?

Previous research led by Professor Meharg showed how a simple process of processing rice could remove more than 80 percent of arsenic. Professor Meharg adds: “Simple measures can be taken to dramatically reduce the arsenic in these products so there is no excuse for manufacturers to be selling baby food products with such harmful levels of this carcinogenic substance.

“Manufacturers should be held accountable for selling products that are not meeting the required EU standard. Companies should publish the levels of arsenic in their products to prevent those with illegal amounts from being sold. This will enable consumers to make an informed decision, aware of any risks associated before consuming products containing arsenic.”

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