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 lung cancer and bladder cancer. It is therefore a matter of concern that several rice products on the market contain rather high levels of arsenic.
Children should not eat rice or rice products more often than four times per week.
Children under the age of six should not eat rice cakes. Children over the age of six and adults can eat rice cakes occasionally, depending on how many other rice products they eat.
Children under the age of six should not drink rice-based beverages.
Adults should not eat rice or rice products (rice pudding, rice noodles and rice snacks) every day.
When eating rice one should not always choose whole grain/brown rice.
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 whole grain 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 Food Agency's 2015 study showed that a young child who eats two to four rice cakes a week is at risk of getting a lot of arsenic. As rice cakes provide almost no important nutrients, and in addition often contain salt, the Swedish Food Agency 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.
Is it possible to avoid arsenic in rice by buying organic food?
As 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 content of inorganic arsenic.
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 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 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.
How does the Swedish Food Agency work with arsenic in rice?
For a number of years the Swedish 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.
Our studies have led to new recommendations and also to several companies taking proactive measures to reduce arsenic levels in their products.
The Swedish 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.
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 of a study in 2011-2012 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 analysed. The study showed that the average content of inorganic arsenic was 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 analysed in both 2015 and 2017, the arsenic content had increased in six. This increase was highest for two organic rice brands.