WASHINGTON >> The Food and Drug Administration may consider new standards for the levels of arsenic in rice as consumer groups are calling for federal guidance on how much of the carcinogen can be present in food.
So far, FDA officials say they have found no evidence that suggests rice is unsafe to eat. The agency has studied the issue for decades but is in the middle of conducting a new study of 1,200 samples of grocery-store rice products — short and long-grain rice, adult and baby cereals, drinks and even rice cakes — to measure arsenic levels.
Rice is thought to have arsenic in higher levels than most other foods because it is grown in water on the ground, optimal conditions for the contaminant to be absorbed in the rice. There are no federal standards for how much arsenic is allowed in food.
Arsenic is naturally present in water, air, food and soil in two forms, organic and inorganic. According to the FDA, organic arsenic passes through the body quickly and is essentially harmless. Inorganic arsenic — the type found in some pesticides and insecticides — can be toxic and may pose a cancer risk if consumed at high levels or over a long period.
How much organic and inorganic arsenic rice eaters are consuming, and whether those levels are dangerous, still remains to be seen.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says consumers shouldn’t stop eating rice, though she does encourage a diverse diet just in case.
“Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains — not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food,” she said.
New bee research details harm from insecticide
A pitched battle about why bee populations around the world are declining so rapidly has been joined by two new studies pointing directly at the harm from insecticides most commonly used by grain, cotton, bean and vegetable farmers.
Pesticides were an early suspect, but many additional factors appear to be at play — including a relatively new invasive mite that kills bees in their hives, loss of open land for foraging, and the stresses on honeybee colonies caused by moving them from site to site for agricultural pollinating.
The new bee research, some of the most extensive done involving complex field studies rather than simpler laboratory work, found that exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides did not kill the bees directly, but changed their behavior in harmful ways. In particular, the insecticide made the honeybees and bumblebees somewhat less able to forage for food and return with it to their hives.
While the authors of the studies published Thursday in the journal Science do not conclude that the pesticides are the sole cause of the American and international decline in bees or the more immediate and worrisome phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, they say that the omnipresent chemicals have a clearly harmful effect on beehives.