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Study Finds Kids Rice Snacks In Australia Contain Dangerous Amounts Of Arsenic

A new study has found rice snacks for kids in the aisles of Australian supermarkets contain arsenic at levels above European safety guidelines.

The research found that 75 percent of rice-based products that were tested came up with levels of arsenic that are above what is recommended as safe for babies and toddlers abroad.

It tested 39 rice products for babies and toddlers found in Australian supermarkets, including: milk formula powder, cereal, crackers and pasta made from brown, white, organic and non-organic rice.

The study, which was published in the 'International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health', suggested that Australian children who eat large amounts of rice based foods might be exposed to dangerous amounts of arsenic.

The results were far higher than what is found overseas. Image: Getty

The research used European guidelines as currently Australia does not have safety standards that are specifically for children, according to senior researcher Associate Professor Suzie Reichman, an environmental toxicologist at RMIT University.

“While all the products we tested meet Australian guidelines, these do not reflect the latest scientific understanding on how arsenic affects the body,” Reichman said.

“Children are far more vulnerable to the long-term toxic effect of metals like arsenic, but our rice guidelines are based on adults. The guidelines are also based on out-of-date dietary habits, when rice was generally eaten less often by Australian families."

This study shows the need to develop new standards specifically for children and ensure our guidelines are in line with what we now know about safe rice consumption.

Rice-based products are growing in popularity among parents according to Reichman as they are a common alternative for children who have an intolerance to gluten.

“Rice can be safely eaten as part of a well-rounded, balanced diet, but if it’s a child’s main source of carbohydrates, that could be a problem,” she said.

“As a general rule, we recommend that children under five eat rice in moderation and parents should avoid serving rice at every meal, to minimise the risk of exposure to arsenic.”

What is arsenic?

Arsenic is a naturally occurring metal widely found in air, soil and groundwater that comes in both organic and inorganic forms.

While organic arsenic is said to be relatively safe, inorganic arsenic is a dangerous carcinogen that has been linked to cancers of both the bladder and skin. Long-term exposure to large amounts of inorganic arsenic is detrimental to human health.

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Brown rice versus white rice

Despite brown rice crackers typically being viewed as the healthier option by parents, the study found they contain more inorganic arsenic than white rice crackers.

The reason for this is likely due to arsenic being more concentrated in rice bran, which is removed during the process of making white rice.

Brown rice crackers contained more arsenic than white rice crackers. Image: Supplied

Reichman found these results particularly concerning, noting that parents often think they are being more conscious of their child's health by giving them brown rice which is higher in fibre and nutrients.

The guidelines

It is known that rice plants accumulate arsenic more than similar crops which is why rice safety guidelines have been introduced internationally to protect against possibly unsafe exposure.

The current Australian rice guidelines are based on both organic and inorganic arsenic as a total, while the European guidelines for babies and toddlers are based on only inorganic arsenic.

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The maximum level according to the Australian guidelines are three times higher than what is recommended by the World Health Organisation.

They are 10 times higher than what is recommended by the EU guidelines for infants and young children.

Featured image: Getty