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."