For many parents, baby rice is 'baby's first food.' It's ground to a fine consistency, like flour, therefore easily digested, making it the perfect meal for weaning babies. Also, it contains vitamins that help strengthen the immune system, promote healthy blood and help the body release energy from food.
However, new research shows that seven popular baby rice products in UK supermarkets contain dangerous levels of arsenic. According to tests conducted by Channel 4's Food Unwrapped, nearly a quarter of 26 baby rice foods broke European Union safety rules. The program did not name the seven products with high levels.
Arsenic is an element found in nature, but exposure can become aggravated through human activities. Low levels of the substance are in drinking water, air and many foods. However, rice contains contains higher levels of arsenic because it absorbs more water as it grows. Long-term exposure to arsenic can increase the risk of skin, bladder, kidney and lung cancer, as well as heart disease and diabetes.
Food research expert Professor Andy Meharg told Food Unwrapped that parents should restrict baby rice intake to 30 grams a day, which is about three tablespoons. "I would not feed young children rice at all," Meharg told The Daily Mail. "As a parent I would want to take problematic things out. I would not want to take a risk with it." He added that small concentrations of the substance could dramatically affect children's immune development, growth and IQ.
The television series interviewed mothers, who were shocked by the disturbing reports. One described the arsenic levels as "scary," while another stated, "There should be more warnings because I wouldn't give my child that product." The concerned mothers, and Professor Meharg, have called for clearer labelling on all baby rice products. The pertinent information should be displayed on the packaging - perhaps through a color-coding system - so that parents know what they're feeding their children.
In response to this controversy, a Food Standards Agency spokesman said, "Arsenic is naturally occurring in the environment and it is not possible to totally eliminate it from the diet. But because it has the potential to increase the risk of illnesses, including cancer, it is important to reduce exposure to as low as reasonably achievable."
He continued, "Maximum legal levels are in place for arsenic in rice, with stricter levels for rice used in the production of foods for infants and young children. It is the responsibility of food manufacturers to ensure they use ingredients in compliance with the legislation. Where non-compliance is found, enforcement officers will investigate and take action as needed."
Well, hopefully an investigation will be conducted and action will be taken to resolve this issue. Parents put a lot of thought into what they feed their children, and deserve to know if products contain dangerous levels of arsenic.