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Arsenic in baby foods

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast have found that almost half of baby rice food products contain illegal levels of inorganic arsenic despite new regulations set by the EU[3].

In January 2016, the EU imposed a maximum limit of inorganic arsenic on manufacturers in a bid to mitigate associated health risks. Researchers at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s have found that despite the new law, 50% of baby rice food products still contain an illegal level of inorganic arsenic.

As babies are rapidly growing, they are at a sensitive stage of development and are known to be more susceptible to the damaging effects of arsenic, which can inhibit their development and cause long-term health problems. Babies and young children under the age of five also eat around three times more food on a body weight basis than adults, which means that, relatively, they have three times greater exposures to inorganic arsenic from the same food item.

Typically, rice has ten times more inorganic arsenic than other foods and chronic exposure can cause a range of health problems including developmental problems, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system damage.

The research findings compared the level of arsenic in urine samples among infants who were breast-fed or formula-fed before and after weaning. A higher concentration of arsenic was found in formula-fed infants, particularly among those who were fed non-dairy formulas, which includes rice-fortified formulas favoured for infants with dietary requirements, such as wheat or dairy intolerance. The weaning process further increased infants’ exposure to arsenic, with babies five times more exposed to arsenic after the weaning process, highlighting the clear link between rice-based baby products and exposure to arsenic.

Researchers also compared baby food products containing rice before and after the law was passed and discovered that higher levels of arsenic have been found in the products since the new regulations were implemented. Nearly 75% of the rice-based products specifically marketed for infants and young children contained more than the standard level of arsenic stipulated by EU law.

References

3. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0176923



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