Days after consumer groups publicly pushed the Food and Drug Administration to establish standards for how much arsenic should be permitted in rice, three lawmakers are set to introduce a bill today (Sept. 21) that would create limits on the toxic element in the grain, according to news reports.
The Los Angeles Times reported that three Democratic congressmen -- Conn. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, N.J. Rep. Frank Pallone and N.Y. Rep. Nita Lowey -- are behind the bill.
"The idea that high levels of arsenic, a known carcinogen, are present in rice, cereal and other common, everyday foods is absolutely outrageous," DeLauro said in a statement. "The federal government has an obligation to every American family to ensure that the food they consume is safe and should not make them sick. This is not the first time we have been alerted to the dangers of arsenic, and quite simply we must do more to ensure that our food supply is safe. This bill is a step in that direction."
However, Reuters noted that it may be difficult for this bill, named the "RICE Act," to pass:
The RICE Act could face a tough road to passage since it was introduced by Democratic lawmakers in a bitterly partisan chamber with a Republican majority.
The new concerns about arsenic in rice come after Consumer Reports conducted a study of 223 samples of rice products and found that some of the products contained inorganic arsenic, which is a known carcinogen (and is different from harmless organic arsenic) the Associated Press reported. Consumer Reports compared the inorganic arsenic levels they found in rice with the amount allowed in water (in New Jersey, only 5 micrograms of inorganic arsenic are allowed for every liter of water), according to the AP.
The Consumer Reports investigation turned up inorganic arsenic levels as high as 8.7 micrograms, the Associated Press reported, though a separate ongoing FDA study showed average inorganic arsenic levels between 3.5 and 6.7 micrograms.
"Based on our findings, we strongly believe that the government needs to set these limits," Ami Gadhia, the senior policy counsel for the Consumers Union, which is the policy division of Consumer Reports, said in a statement. "We commend the sponsors of this legislation for standing up to help consumers."
Life's Little Mysteries explained how arsenic even gets in rice in the first place:
The toxin has both man-made and synthetic sources, and the portion that ends up in rice most likely draws from both. Arsenic, a shiny gray metalloid in its elemental form, occurs naturally in the Earth's crust and makes its way into soil and water supplies through ordinary weathering processes.
But the element also has common industrial uses, including in pesticides and wood preservatives. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, inorganic arsenic (meaning simply a form of arsenic that has not bonded with carbon) has been shown to persist in the soil for more than 45 years.
Earlier this year, DeLauro and Pallone introduced a bill to limit arsenic in fruit juice, after reports showed that some fruit juices contained arsenic and lead, USA Today reported. A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration told the publication that the agency is looking at the safety of juice, but "total arsenic levels in apple juice are routinely low."
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<strong>What it is:</strong> Extract from <a href="http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/castoreum" target="_hplink">beaver perineal glands</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> "Natural flavoring is defined by the FDA as any substance extracted, distilled or otherwise derived from 'natural' materials, such as plant or animal matter," Bradley explains. "In the case of strawberry and raspberry flavorings, some natural berry flavors may actually be enhanced by castoreum." It's also sometimes taken (intentionally) in <a href="http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-315-CASTOREUM.aspx?activeIngredientId=315&activeIngredientName=CASTOREUM" target="_hplink">supplement form</a>.
<strong>What it is:</strong> A salt compound <a href="http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ammonium sulfate" target="_hplink">comprised of nitrogen</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> In <a href="http://w3.uwyo.edu/~dwwilson/pamphlet.html" target="_hplink">some fertilizers </a> -- and in some breads, like the <a href="http://www.subway.com/Nutrition/Files/usProdIngredients.pdf" target="_hplink">rolls at Subway</a>. Chemicals with ammonia are typically added to neutralize a food that's too acidic, says Doyle, which can affect texture. It's safe in the amounts it is used in foods, he says, but admits it will certainly be startling to many people, who may only be familiar with it as a heavy-duty cleaner.
<strong>What it is:</strong> An amino acid made from human hair or duck feathers <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Used as a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/24/processed-food-ingredients_n_1441700.html#s890346&title=KFCs_Chicken_Pot" target="_hplink">dough conditioner</a> in some bread products, Bradley says, which can improve the texture and feel of products, as well as prolong their shelf life. Feathers and hair are readily-available waste products that would cost more money to dispose of, says Doyle, and since both are protein, they can be digested down to amino acids.
<strong>What it is:</strong> Also known as silica, it's most often present as <a href="http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/silicon+dioxide" target="_hplink">quartz or sand</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Various fast food options, like <a href="http://www.wendys.com/food/pdf/us/nutrition.pdf" target="_hplink">Wendy's chili</a> and <a href="http://www.good.is/post/silicon-dioxide-and-smoke-flavor-taco-bell-s-definition-of-meat/" target="_hplink">Taco Bell's meat filling</a>. It's added to foods as an anti-caking agent, to keep them from clumping, explains Doyle.
<strong>What it is:</strong> A chemical related to the mined metallic element <a href="http://www.rodale.com/gross-food?page=2" target="_hplink">titanium</a>, according to Rodale <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Sunscreen. It's a UV light absorber, says Doyle, but also works as a lightener in foods. It's often used to whiten skim milk, which, after the fat is removed, can appear slightly blue, he says. It may also be used in <a href="http://eatthis.menshealth.com/slide/3-salad-dressing" target="_hplink">salad dressings</a>, coffee creamers and frosting, according to <em>Men's Health</em>.
<strong>What it is:</strong> A <a href="http://www.fao.org/ag/agn/jecfa-additives/specs/Monograph1/Additive-049.pdf" target="_hplink">processing</a> agent <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2011/10/27/why-lovin-the-mcrib-isnt-a-heart-smart-idea/" target="_hplink">Plastics, like yoga mats</a> and the soles of your shoes, according to <em>TIME</em>'s Healthland -- as well as <a href="http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/getnutrition/ingredientslist.pdf" target="_hplink">hamburger buns</a>.
<strong>What it is:</strong> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20588763_5,00.html" target="_hplink">Secretions from a bug native to Thailand</a>, Health.com reports <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Coating your favorite shiny sweets, like jelly beans. Look for it on ingredients lists as "confectioner's glaze."
<strong>What it is:</strong> Charred <a href="http://www.peta.org/about/faq/Are-animal-ingredients-included-in-white-sugar.aspx" target="_hplink">cattle bones</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> While it's used less and less in foods these days, says Bradley, it was historically used to filter sugar appear to make it appear whiter and more pure. <em><strong>Clarification:</strong> Language has been added to indicate that bone char was used in the refining process, not as an additive.</em>
<strong>What it is:</strong> <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916.html" target="_hplink">Wood pulp</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> In shredded cheese, salad dressings, chocolate milk and more, according to the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>. It's added to foods to keep them from clumping by blocking moisture, and can <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916.html" target="_hplink">thicken foods in the pace of oil or flour</a>, which cost more.