Why does rice contain arsenic?
Arsenic is naturally present in the bedrock and is absorbed by rice through the soil or irrigation water.
Is it dangerous?
The levels of arsenic in the products are not too high to constitute acute risks, but arsenic is a substance that one should try to get as little of as possible. Long-term exposure to arsenic can increase the risk of cancer of the lungs or bladder. Therefore, it is serious that several rice products on the market contain rather high levels.
What can I do as a consumer?
You can affect the amount of arsenic you ingest. If you have a well-balanced diet and choose different types of food and brands, you will reduce the risk of ingesting too much of any individual substance.
Eating rice and rice products a few times a week, which is common in Sweden, does not constitute a health risk. However adults should not eat rice and rice products (rice pudding, rice noodles and rice snacks) every day. Children should not eat rice and rice products more than four times a week.
People who eat rice every day or several times a day, can get a lot of arsenic. If you eat rice every day, our advice is to gradually try to eat less rice.
One way to reduce the amount of arsenic is to boil rice with a large excess of water which is then poured away. By doing this the arsenic content in the rice can decrease by more than half.
Brown rice often contains higher levels of arsenic compared to white rice. This is because arsenic is mainly concentrated in the husk of the rice, which is more common in wholegrain products. We usually recommend that you choose whole grain products, but in this case, it is better only to eat brown rice occasionally.
Can children eat rice?
Yes, children can eat rice, but it is always important to have a well-balanced diet. That is to eat different types of food, and to choose different brands. A well-balanced and varied diet decreases the risk of ingesting too much of any harmful substances. Therefore, eating rice and rice products a few times a week, which is common in Sweden, does not constitute a health risk. However, children should not eat rice and rice products – rice pudding, rice noodles and rice snacks – more than four times a week.
Can children eat other rice products?
The Swedish National Food Agency's 2015 study shows that a young child who eats two to four rice cakes a week is at risk of getting a lot of arsenic. Rice cakes provide almost no important nutrients and often contain salt. The Swedish National Food Agency therefore advice parents not to give rice cakes to children under the age of six.
Children over the age of six and adults can eat rice cakes occasionally, depending on how many other rice products they eat.
My child has eaten many rice cakes regularly for several years – should I be concerned?
No, the effects of arsenic are mostly notable when a person is exposed to high levels of arsenic over a long period of time. But it's always a good idea to vary the diet and not eat too much of a particular product. Young children are more sensitive than older children are, because they weigh less and therefore ingest more arsenic per kilo of body weight.
What can someone with food traditions based on eating a lot of rice do?
It can be difficult to change a habit or a food tradition of eating a lot of rice, but our advice is still to gradually try to eat less rice. If the rice is boiled with a large excess of water, which is then poured off, it can reduce the arsenic content in the rice by more than half.
Is it possible to avoid arsenic in rice by buying organic food?
Since arsenic is naturally present in the soil, it is not possible to affect the level of arsenic by using organic growing methods. Buying organic rice does not make any difference.
In the 2017 analyzes, the highest levels of arsenic were found in the organic products. All kind of rice varieties absorb more arsenic if they grow in soil and water that has a high inorganic arsenic content.
Is there arsenic in specialty products such as pasta and bread for people with gluten intolerance?
The study in 2015 included products that are specially adapted for people with gluten intolerance, such as pasta and bread made of rice flour. These did not contain high levels of arsenic.
Is there any type of rice that contains less arsenic than others?
In the study 2015, basmati and jasmine rice contained less arsenic compared to other types of rice. But the levels vary, which means that you cannot say that all basmati and jasmine rice contains lower levels.
Is rice from some countries better than from others?
No, the levels in the bedrock vary naturally between different locations. They can even vary from one field to another. Therefore, it is difficult to say that a particular country or region has higher or lower levels of arsenic in its rice than another.
Why don't you ban products that contain harmful substances?
Unfortunately there are harmful substances in our food that are not possible to avoid entirely. To keep levels to a minimum, many substances are subject to statutory maximum levels.
The EU has agreed on maximum levels for arsenic in rice, which came into force 1 January 2016. The Swedish National Food Agency considers the new maximum levels to be too high to offer sufficient protection for consumers from a high intake of arsenic from rice and rice products. We therefore work to get future maximum levels further reduced.
What does the Swedish National Food Agency do?
For a number of years the Swedish National Food Agency has been analysing arsenic levels in rice and other foods, including products that are specifically for children. Studies of arsenic levels in food will continue over the next few years, both through enhanced checks and analysis of levels in various food products.
So far the studies have led to new recommendations and also to several companies taking proactive measures to reduce arsenic levels in their products.
The Swedish National Food Agency is also working to try to influence legislation, so that the maximum levels that are established provide better protection for consumers from foods containing high levels of arsenic.
Which products were included in the study?
The 2015 study included rice (basmati, jasmine, long grain, risotto, brown), rice cakes, fresh rice pudding, breakfast cereals, rice drinks, gluten-free bread, noodles and gluten-free pasta. The products included brands from the major supermarkets, as well as less common brands and also organic products.
The study in 2015 was a follow-up off the previous 2011-2012 study of the heavy metals arsenic, lead and cadmium in various products for young children: infant formula, porridge, cereal drinks and vegetable-based drinks, such as rice and oat drinks. Products for children with special medical needs were also included in this study.
An additional follow-up was made in 2017. In this study, nearly 30 samples of brown rice were analyzed. The survey showed that the content of inorganic arsenic was on average higher in 2017 than in 2015. The rice products that had the highest levels of arsenic were organic. One of the samples of brown rice also exceeded the limit value. In eight of the rice brands that were analyzed in both 2015 and 2017, the arsenic content had increased in six. This increase was highest for two organic rice brands.