Food sector bodies hit back over illegal arsenic claims

The FDF and BSNA said manufacturers were already working toward cutting the amount of arsenic in their products

Food and drink manufacturers’ representatives have slammed a report which claimed that half of baby rice food contained illegal amounts of arsenic.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and the British Specialist Nutrition Association (BSNA) both said that manufacturers were already working to cut levels of arsenic in their products. It came after the Food Standards Agency said last week that manufacturers should ensure their products complied with EU legislation on arsenic.

An FDF spokesman said: “The safety of products is the top priority for food and drink producers, who constantly assess their raw materials and also provide current data to help inform regulatory decision-making. Both consumers and food companies rely on robust, proportionate legislation and guidance from regulatory bodies.

‘Arsenic occurs naturally’

“Arsenic occurs naturally in a wide range of foods at low levels due to the presence of arsenic in soil and water. Rice, an important contributor to a balanced and healthy diet, is known to concentrate more inorganic arsenic compared to other cereals. This therefore remains the focus for ongoing, long-term research globally.”

The FDF’s comments came after a Queen’s University Belfast report claimed half of baby rice food sold in the UK contained illegal amounts of arsenic. About 75% of products tested had larger amounts of inorganic arsenic than before the EU’s new legislation was introduced in January 2016, it claimed on May 4.

But, the BSNA refuted the results. It said the products tested were bought the month after the legislation was introduced, and retailers were still selling products manufactured before January 2016.

A BSNA statement read: “Manufacturers carefully select and rigorously check all their raw materials to ensure they are safe and strictly compliant with current food safety regulations. Industry has been working proactively to reduce the levels of arsenic in food and it has been a focus of ongoing, long-term research.

‘Carefully select and rigorously check’

“The research was undertaken a month after the regulations came into force, when shops would still be permitted to sell rice products manufactured before January 1 2016. We are confident, should the research be repeated now, that rice products designed for infants and young children produced by our members would meet the stringent EU food safety regulations.”

Commenting on the report on May 4, an FSA spokeswoman said: “There have been strict maximum limits for inorganic arsenic in rice for use in foods for infants and young children since January 2016.

“It is the responsibility of food manufacturers to ensure that products comply with this legislation.”

Meanwhile, the university researchers argued that manufacturers could remove up to 85% of arsenic in their products by percolating fresh hot water through them.

Lead author of the study Professor Andrew Meharg said: “Simple measures can be taken to dramatically reduce the arsenic in these products so there is no excuse for manufacturers to be selling baby food products with such harmful levels of this carcinogenic substance.

"Manufacturers should be held accountable for selling products that are not meeting the required EU standard. Companies should publish the levels of arsenic in their products to prevent those with illegal amounts from being sold.”

 

What they say about Arsenic in baby rice food
  • “Some arsenic is naturally occurring and unavoidable in food. However, there have been strict maximum limits for inorganic arsenic in rice for use in foods for infants and young children since January 2016. It is the responsibility of food manufacturers to ensure that products comply with this legislation.”

Food Standards Agency

  • “This research has shown direct evidence that babies are exposed to illegal levels of arsenic despite the EU regulation to specifically address this health challenge. Babies are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of arsenic that can prevent the healthy development of a baby’s growth, IQ and immune system to name but a few.”

Andrew Meharg, Queen’s University Belfast

  • “Arsenic occurs naturally in a wide range of foods at low levels due to the presence of arsenic in soil and water. Rice, an important contributor to a balanced and healthy diet, is known to concentrate more inorganic arsenic compared to other cereals. This therefore remains the focus for ongoing, long-term research globally.”

Food and Drink Federation

  • “The research was undertaken a month after the regulations came into force when shops would still be permitted to sell rice products manufactured before January 1 2016. We are confident, should the research be repeated now, that rice products designed for infants and young children produced by our members would meet the stringent EU food safety regulations.”

British Specialist Nutrition Association

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