Health Canada Says It Will Set Cap on Arsenic in Food, Looks to Europe for Standard

By Bear, Christine | The Canadian Press, April 5, 2019 | Go to article overview

Health Canada Says It Will Set Cap on Arsenic in Food, Looks to Europe for Standard


Bear, Christine, The Canadian Press


Health Canada to set limit on arsenic in rice in 'near future'

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Health Canada says it will launch a months-long consultation process this year on setting a maximum level of arsenic allowed in rice and rice-based food, including baby cereal.

Currently, there is no hard limit on arsenic in rice-based food in Canada and the U.S., despite existing regulations in Europe.

Although the toxicity of arsenic depends on its chemical form and level of exposure, the naturally occurring element can cause various health issues including skin lesions, nausea and diarrhea, with long-term exposure associated with an increased risk of cancer.

"Health Canada will continue to take steps to help ensure that dietary exposure to arsenic is as low as possible for Canadians, including infants and young children," said Maryse Durette, senior media relations adviser for Health Canada, in an email.

A proposal for these new measures should be available for consultation with the food industry, professional organizations and consumers by mid-2019, Durette said.

"In the near future, Health Canada will recommend new maximum levels for inorganic arsenic in rice, consistent with those established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an international group that sets safety standards for foods."

While the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) monitors arsenic levels in baby food, the process of setting a cap is taking years due to consultations with stakeholders including the food and health industries -- and because the science that tells us how much arsenic is dangerous is still emerging.

The limit enforced by the European Commission -- 200 parts per billion (ppb) for adults and 100 ppb for infants -- was set in 2016 based on research showing that higher arsenic concentrations were associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Arsenic is ubiquitous in our environment, in the soil, air and water, with concentrations near mining sites skyrocketing to levels that can be carcinogenic.

Because of the risk to human health, total arsenic and its various types, including inorganic arsenic, the form considered most toxic, are measured in bottled water, juices and nectars, fish protein, baby formulas, foods and supplements by regulatory bodies around the world, including the CFIA.

The potential for high arsenic concentrations in rice-based foods, including infant cereals and biscuits, is a higher concern because arsenic can accumulate in rice as it grows in the standing water of paddies.

The Europeans moved to cap infant rice based food at 100 ppb, half the level of 200 ppb recommended for adults, because rice can form a major component of the diet for babies.

Those recommendations were made based on two 2010 studies of a Taiwanese community, in which researchers found that if the concentration of arsenic was above 100 ppb, there was a greater risk of urinary and lung cancer in children and adults.

While the average inorganic arsenic concentration tested in Canada by CFIA on different infant cereals was approximately 100 ppb, certain brands of infant food exceeded the European legal limit, with the highest measurement being 200 ppb, according to a CFIA Food Safety Action Plan report, which conducted testing in 2015 on samples collected between 2011 and 2013. …

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