Friday, October 5, 2012


U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Farmer's Monsanto Seed Appeal
- Common Dreams staff
Published on Friday, October 5, 2012 by Common Dreams
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear the case of a 73-year-old Indiana farmer who appealed a decision that he infringed patents held by Monsanto Co.
A federal appeals court found that soybean farmer Vernon Bowman infringed on Monsanto patents when he planted second-generation soybeans that were the product of seeds he had purchased from Monsanto.
The court upheld a decision awarding Monsanto $84,456 in damages, Reutersreported.
Bowman argued that the rights to the seeds had expired, Greg Stohr reported for Bloomberg.
The company claims to hold the rights to genetically modified seeds, and says farmers must buy them every year rather than planting any of the previous year's harvest.
Monsanto is the world's largest seed company, with $13.5 billion in annual revenue. Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds are engineered to resist herbicides such as Roundup, according to Bloomberg.
Reuters reported that the case would likely be heard in January or February of 2013.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Organic Subsidiaries Out Parent Conglomerates

Published on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 by
One of the most important elections being held on November 6 doesn't even have a Democratic, Republican, Green, Libertarian or other partisan candidate on the ballot. Imagine!
Yet, this statewide contest in California will likely have a huge impact on national policy and on grassroots efforts to rein in the arrogance of corporate power that's running roughshod over Americans. That's why those powerful interests are going all-out to win in California, bulldozing as much as $50 million into this one election — more than they're putting into some of the big-money battles for U.S. Senate seats.
What's the name of this popular populist candidate who's spooking CEOs of national corporations right out of their Guccis? Mr. Right-To-Know.
He's on the November ballot as Proposition 37, a citizens initiative to require food conglomerates to label products containing genetically manipulated organisms. These GMOs, developed in the engineering labs of such biotech giants as Monsanto and DuPont, contain unnaturally altered DNA and are quietly slipped into hundreds of processed foods with no word to consumers about the adulteration. Also, adequate scientific studies have not been conducted on the long-term impacts these manufactured organisms could have on human health, the environment and small farmers.
So, a broad coalition of "people's interests" came up with Prop 37 — not to ban GMOs, but simply to say that We The People have a right to know if food and biotech profiteers have added these highly questionable organisms to the products we put on our dinner tables. The people's proposal is a straightforward, easy way to empower every consumer in the marketplace to make their own choice. And, wow, the corporate powers really hate that.
The giants fear that consumers (damn them!) will reject products containing risky GMOs, so they want to keep such contents a secret.
Since the California market is huge, passage of a labeling law there would effectively become a national provision. Thus, the corporations are mounting their massive PR campaign.
Despite that, however, a July poll shows that 65 percent of likely voters are inclined to vote "yes" on the proposal, so its national brand-name opponents fear they'll come a cropper over Prop 37. If so, it'll actually be a double cropper.
This is because, ironically, their media blitz is revealing way more about their conglomerated empires than they want people to know. Another of their carefully constructed consumer frauds is that many multinationals have quietly bought up dozens of popular organic food firms — but they've kept their conglomerate names off the labels hoping customers will think the organic brands are still scrappy independent businesses.
Now, the public is learning that Kashi organics, for example, is a subsidiary of Kellogg's, which is spending a ton to defeat Prop 37. Other megabuck donors to the anti-consumer campaign include General Mills (owner of Muir Glen and Cascadian Farm organic brands), Dean Foods (owner of Horizon organic milk and Silk organic soy milk) and such giant deceivers as Campbell Soup, Bimbo Bakeries, Coca-Cola, Del Monte, Nestle, PepsiCo and J.M. Smucker.
The fun part is that the organic subsidiaries of these conglomerates support the Right-To-Know labeling law, with such organic firms as chips-maker Food Should Taste Good labeling its packages as "non-GMO" even though its owner, General Mills, has pumped a million bucks into the anti-labeling campaign. Many of the subsidiaries are aghast that their corporate parents are financing legalized consumer deception.
Nothing like a feisty family squabble to air out dirty linens and expose some ugly truths! To keep up with Mr. Right-To-Know's California campaign, go to
© 2012 Creators Syndicate
Jim Hightower
National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book,Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.


Published on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 by Common Dreams
Study: Genetically Engineering Crops Increasing Use of Herbicides
- Common Dreams staff
Genetically-engineered crops have created more herbicide-resistant weeds—or "superweeds"— and increased, rather than decreased, the use of pesticides and herbicides such as Roundup, according to a new study published in Environmental Sciences Europe.
A theatrical protest in Mexico City against genetically modified corn. Scores of people took to the streets of the capital Saturday, including this man, dressed as an arch-capitalist. They are denouncing a government decision to allow multi-national companies to grow genetically altered corn. Protestors say the decision would drive the country's small corn producers into bankruptcy and imperil Mexico's native varieties of corn. (Photo: Reuters).While the genetically-engineered crops, such as corn, soybeans and cotton, have been commercially successful, the use of technology led to a 527 million pound increase in the use of herbicide in the United States between 1996 and 2011, according to the study.
"Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S.—the first sixteen years," and overall pesticide use increased by an estimated 404 million pounds, or about 7 percent, study author Charles M. Benbrook said.
Glyphosate, marketed as Roundup, is one of several broad-spectrum herbicides used to kill weeds, according to the online journal Approximately 95 percent of soybean and cotton acres, and over 85 percent of corn, are genetically modified to be herbicide resistant, according to
The study concluded that over-reliance on herbicides and the emergence of "supersedes" caused farmers to increase their use of herbicides and add new forms of them.
Weeds with natural resistance then spread quickly when farmers relied too heavily on a single weedkiller, the BBC reported.
"There are now two-dozen weeds resistant to glyphosate … and many of these are spreading rapidly," an analysis of the study by Washington State University said. "Millions of acres are infested with more than one glyphosate-resistant weed. The presence of resistant weeds drives up herbicide use by 25% to 50%, and increases farmer-weed control costs by at least as much."
One solution to resistance could be a new type of genetically modified crop that uses a weedkiller once used in the defoliant Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War, according to the BBC.


Bhutan Pledges to be First 100% Organic Nation
The small, Himalayan kingdom plans to be chemical free within decade
- Common Dreams staff
Published on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 by Common Dreams

The small nation of Bhutan, nestled in the Himalayas between China and India, is committed to becoming the first "hundred percent organic" nation.
Farmers in Bhutan hope to be 100 percent organic in ten years. Photo by *christopher* via flickrAt the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June, Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley announced that his government is developing a National Organic Policy and a plan to convert 100% of his nation's agricultural land to organic farms. The policy's goal is to phase out artificial chemicals in farming over the next 10 years.
"Bhutan has decided to go for a green economy in light of the tremendous pressure we are exerting on the planet," Agriculture Minister Pema Gyamtsho told the Agence France-Presse. "If you go for very intensive agriculture it would imply the use of so many chemicals, which is not in keeping with our belief in Buddhism, which calls for us to live in harmony with nature."
The Himilayan kingdom of 700,000 became a pioneer in 1972 when Bhutan's fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined the term "Gross National Happiness" and announced that the nation would measure their success based on well-being and other Buddhist spiritual values rather than economic measures. This value rating has been publicly embraced by the United Nations and other countries worldwide. Other measures Bhutan has taken to ensure their quality of life include banning television until 1999 and deterring mass tourism to protect its culture from foreign influence.
According to Gyamtsho, Bhutan's chemical use is already "very low" by international standards. Heexplained, "only farmers in areas that are accessible by roads or have easy transport have access to chemicals." The majority of farmers are already organic and rely on rotting leaves or compost as a natural fertilizer. Two-thirds of the country depend on farming the nation's 7.8 percent arable which is peppered among the plains in the south and the Himalayan peaks to the north.
The Prime Minister is employing a step-by-step strategy to going organic: "We have identified crops for which we can go organic immediately and certain crops for which we will have to phase out the use of chemicals, for rice in certain valleys for example." Staple food exports include of wheat, exotic mushrooms, red rice, potatoes and fruits.
Gyamtsho released a report (pdf) explaining that the organic program is not just about protecting the environment. It will also train farmers in new methods that will help them grow more food and, consequently, move the country closer to self-sufficiency. Bhutan has sent a number of farmers to India to study at Vanadana Shiva's organic training farm and has invited consultants from the farm to help educate locals so they can help other Bhutanese farmers transition to organic.
The Prime Minister had said in his speech that his goal is for the 'Raised in Bhutan' label to be "synonymous with 'organically grown.'" In addition to the obvious ecological benefits, the Bhutan Observer notes that the hope is for the program is to "pursue organic farming as the finest recourse to alleviate rural poverty in the country."
There is a growing market for organic goods in neighboring countries, like India, with a growing middle class. Nadia Scialabba, global specialist on organic farming at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, told the AFP that this trend is "happening in very small countries who are not competitive on quantity, but they would like to be competitive in quality."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Arsenic in your food

Our findings show a real need for federal standards for this toxin

Consumer Reports magazine: November 2012
Our analysis found varying levels of arsenic in more than 60 rices and rice products.

Tracing the sources of arsenic | What our tests found | Cereals cause concern | Diet changes arsenic risk | What should be done | Arsenic in food | A CEO reworks his toddler formulas

Organic rice baby cereal, rice breakfast cereals, brown rice, white rice—new tests by Consumer Reports have found that those and other types of rice products on grocery shelves contain arsenic, many at worrisome levels.
Arsenic not only is a potent human carcinogen but also can set up children for other health problems in later life.
Following our January investigation, "Arsenic in Your Juice," which found arsenic in apple and grape juices, we recently tested more than 200 samples of a host of rice products. They included iconic labels and store brands, organic products and conventional ones; some were aimed at the booming gluten-free market.
The results of our tests were even more troubling in some ways than our findings for juice. In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern. Moreover, the foods we checked are popular staples, eaten by adults and children alike. See the chart summarizing results of our tests for arsenic in rice or rice products.
Though rice isn’t the only dietary source of arsenic—some vegetables, fruits, and even water can harbor it—the Environmental Protection Agency assumes there is actually no “safe” level of exposure to inorganic arsenic.
No federal limit exists for arsenic in most foods, but the standard for drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb). Keep in mind: That level is twice the 5 ppb that the EPA originally proposed and that New Jersey actually established. Using the 5-ppb standard in our study, we found that a single serving of some rices could give an average adult almost one and a half times the inorganic arsenic he or she would get from a whole day’s consumption of water, about 1 liter.
We also discovered that some infant rice cereals, which are often a baby’s first solid food, had levels of inorganic arsenic at least five times more than has been found in alternatives such as oatmeal. Given our findings, we suggest limiting the consumption of rice products. Use our recommendations.
Our study was a snapshot of the market, with many products purchased in the New York metropolitan area and online, to gauge the extent of arsenic’s presence in everyday foods. It can’t be used for overall conclusions about specific brands. Still, we found important trends:
  • White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, which account for 76 percent of domestic rice, generally had higher levels of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic in our tests than rice samples from elsewhere.
  • Within any single brand of rice we tested, the average total and inorganic arsenic levels were always higher for brown rice than for white.
  • People who ate rice had arsenic levels that were 44 percent greater than those who had not, according to our analysis of federal health data. And certain ethnic groups were more highly affected, including Mexicans, other Hispanics, and a broad category that includes Asians.
  • Reducing arsenic in food is feasible. We examined the efforts of two food companies, including Nature's One, trying to tackle the problem and learned about methods being used to try to reduce arsenic in products.
  • Based on these findings, our experts are asking the Food and Drug Administration to set limits for arsenic in rice products and fruit juices as a starting point.
Studies show that arsenic can cause cancer in humans.
Rice producers argue that concerns about dietary exposure to arsenic in rice are overblown. “There is no documented evidence of actual adverse health effects from exposure to arsenic in U.S.-grown rice,” says Anne Banville, a vice president at the USA Rice Federation, a trade association representing the $34 billion rice industry. “And we believe the health benefits of rice must be properly weighed against the risks of arsenic exposure, which we believe are minimal.”
But scientists warn of complacency. “We already know that high concentrations of arsenic in drinking water result in the highest known toxic substance disease risks from any environmental exposure,” says Allan Smith, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley. “So we should not be arguing to wait for years until we have results of epidemiologic studies at lower arsenic intake, such as from rice consumption, to take action.” His studies of arsenic in public water in Chile and Argentina helped show that it causes lung and bladder cancer and other diseases.
Such long-term studies that track health effects of exposure to arsenic in rice have only recently begun in the U.S. Researchers at the Dartmouth Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center in late 2011 published a small but informative study that indicated consuming slightly more than a half-cup of cooked rice per day resulted in a significant increase in urinary arsenic levels, comparable to the effects of drinking a liter of water containing the federal maximum of 10 ppb arsenic. The authors say their results suggest “many people in the U.S. may be exposed to potentially harmful levels of arsenic through rice consumption.”
The USA Rice Federation says it is working with the FDA and the EPA as they examine and assess arsenic levels in food and has supplied rice samples to those agencies for research. It also says some of its member companies may be doing their own testing. One rice company shared with us details of how it is taking matters into its own hands. Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms in Richvale, Calif., which sells rice and rice products, says the company is testing more than 200 samples of the many varieties of rice in its supply chain and plans to share the results with FDA scientists.
“We’re committed to providing safe food, to really listening to our consumers, and dealing with this problem very openly because doing the research needed to assess what the risks really are is the only way to go,” Lundberg says.

Tracing the sources of arsenic

Grant Lundberg, a rice producer in California, has begun extensive testing for arsenic.
Photo by: Robert Durell
The USA Rice Federation tells consumers that there is no reason to be concerned about arsenic in food. Its website states that arsenic is “a naturally occurring element in soil and water” and “all plants take up arsenic.”
But “natural” does not equal safe. Inorganic arsenic, the predominant form of arsenic in most of the 65 rice products we analyzed, is ranked by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as one of more than 100 substances that are Group 1 carcinogens. It is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans, with the liver, kidney, and prostate now considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers.
Though arsenic can enter soil or water due to weathering of arsenic-containing minerals in the earth, humans are more to blame than Mother Nature for arsenic contamination in the U.S. today, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The U.S. is the world’s leading user of arsenic, and since 1910 about 1.6 million tons have been used for agricultural and industrial purposes, about half of it only since the mid-1960s. Residues from the decades of use of lead-arsenate insecticides linger in agricultural soil today, even though their use was banned in the 1980s. Other arsenical ingredients in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth are still permitted. Moreover, fertilizer made from poultry waste can contaminate crops with inorganic arsenic.
Rice is not the only source of arsenic in food. A 2009-10 study from the EPA estimated that rice contributes 17 percent of dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic, which would put it in third place, behind fruits and fruit juices at 18 percent, and vegetables at 24 percent. A more complete study by the European Food Safety Authority found cereal products could account for more than half of dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic, mainly because of rice.
Rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more effectively than most plants. That’s in part because it is one of the only major crops grown in water-flooded conditions, which allow arsenic to be more easily taken up by its roots and stored in the grains. In the U.S. as of 2010, about 15 percent of rice acreage was in California, 49 percent in Arkansas, and the remainder in Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. That south-central region of the country has a long history of producing cotton, a crop that was heavily treated with arsenical pesticides for decades in part to combat the boll weevil beetle.
“Extensive surveys of south central U.S. rice, by more than one research group, have consistently shown that rice from this region is elevated in inorganic arsenic compared to other rice-producing regions,” says Andrew Meharg, professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and co-author of the book “Arsenic & Rice.” “And it does not matter relative to risk whether that arsenic comes from pesticides or is naturally occurring.” High levels of arsenic in soil can actually reduce rice yields. Meharg, a leading researcher in the field, notes the Department of Agriculture has invested in research to breed types of rice that can withstand arsenic. That may help explain the relatively high levels of arsenic found in rice from the region, though other factors such as climate or geology may also play a role.

What our tests found

We tested 223 samples of various rice products that we bought mostly in April and May, many from stores in the New York metropolitan area and online retailers. The samples covered a variety of rice-containing food categories, including infant cereals, hot cereals, ready-to-eat cereals, rice cakes, and rice crackers. We bought products often used by people on gluten-free or other special diets, including rice pasta, rice flour, and rice drinks.
We tested at least three samples of the foods and beverages for total arsenic. We measured specific levels of inorganic arsenic. And we checked for two forms of organic arsenic, called DMA and MMA.
Download this PDF with complete details of our test results.
Though inorganic arsenic is considered the most toxic, concerns have been raised about potential health risks posed by those two organic forms, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer has labeled “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” We found DMA in the 32 rices we tested, which include choices from the south central states and elsewhere, including California, India, and Thailand.
Within brands, brown rice had higher arsenic than white.
In brands for which we tested both a white and a brown rice, the average total and inorganic arsenic levels were higher in the brown rice than in the white rice of the same brand in all cases. Among all tested rice, the highest levels of inorganic arsenic per serving were found in some samples of Martin Long Grain Brown rice, followed by Della Basmati Brown, Carolina Whole Grain Brown, Jazzmen Louisiana Aromatic Brown, and Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Long Grain Brown. But we also found samples of brown rice from Martin and others with inorganic arsenic levels lower than that in some white rice.
Though brown rice has nutritional advantages over white rice, it is not surprising that it might have higher levels of arsenic, which concentrates in the outer layers of a grain. The process of polishing rice to produce white rice removes those surface layers, slightly reducing the total arsenic and inorganic arsenic in the grain.
In brown rice, only the hull is removed. Arsenic concentrations found in the bran that is removed during the milling process to produce white rice can be 10 to 20 times higher than levels found in bulk rice grain.
We also tested for lead and cadmium, other metals that can taint food. The levels we found were generally low overall. Based on our recommended limits for rice products, even the few samples with elevated lead and cadmium should not contribute significantly to dietary exposure.

Cereals cause concern

Worrisome arsenic levels were detected in infant cereals, typically consumed between 4 and 12 months of age.
Among the four infant cereals tested, we found varying levels of arsenic, even in the same brand. Gerber SmartNourish Organic Brown Rice cereal had one sample with the highest level of total arsenic in the category at 329 ppb, and another sample had the lowest total level in this category at 97.7 ppb. It had 0.8 to 1.3 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving.
Earth’s Best Organic Whole Grain Rice cereal had total arsenic levels ranging from 149 ppb to 274 ppb, but higher levels of inorganic arsenic per serving, from 1.7 to 2.7 micrograms.
So what’s a parent to do? To reduce arsenic risks, we recommend that babies eat no more than 1 serving of infant rice cereal per day on average. And their diets should include cereals made of wheat, oatmeal, or corn grits, which contain significantly lower levels of arsenic, according to federal information.
The EPA sets limits for a carcinogen based on how many extra cases of cancer would be caused by exposure to the toxin at a certain level. The limit is designed to minimize that risk. For our recommendations, we used the latest available science to choose a moderate level of protection that balances safety and feasibility, similar to the EPA’s approach for water. Our scientists made these calculations using standard estimates of weight, typical daily consumption of individual rice products over a lifetime, and the range of levels of inorganic arsenic we found. For our recommendations for children, we paid particular attention to their levels of consumption during this critical phase of their development.
According to federal data, some infants eat up to two to three servings of rice cereal a day. Eating rice cereal at that rate, with the highest level of inorganic arsenic we found in our tests, could result in a risk of cancer twice our acceptable level.
For children and pregnant women, risks are heightened. Keeve Nachman, Ph.D., a risk scientist at the Center for a Livable Future in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says, “The more we learn about arsenic’s additional effects on the developing brain, the more concerned I am by these levels of arsenic being found in infant and toddler rice cereal.”
Ready-to-eat cereals, which are popular with adults as well as children, also gave us cause for concern. For instance, Barbara’s Brown Rice Crisps had inorganic arsenic levels that ranged from 5.9 to 6.7 micrograms per serving. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, at 2.3 to 2.7 micrograms, had the lowest levels for the category in our tests.
Rice drinks in our tests showed inorganic arsenic levels of up to 4.5 micrograms per serving. Based on those results, our scientists advise that children under the age of 5 should not have rice drinks as part of a daily diet. In the United Kingdom, children younger than 4½ years are advised against having rice milk because of arsenic concerns.
“This is a time when cells are differentiating into organs and many other important developmental things are going on, so getting exposed to a toxicant like arsenic in utero or during early childhood can cause damage that may not appear until decades later,” says Michael Waalkes, laboratory chief at the Division of the National Toxicology Program. He is one of the authors of a June 2012 report funded in part by the National Institutes of Health that concluded early life exposure to arsenic produces a wide range of cancers and other diseases.

Diet changes arsenic risk

If rice truly is an important source of arsenic exposure, then people who eat rice should have greater arsenic levels in their body, on average, than people who do not. To find out, we analyzed data collected annually by the National Center for Health Statistics for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The survey contains information on the health and nutrition of a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population, based on interviews and physical exams, which may include blood and urine tests.
Our data analysis was led by Richard Stahlhut, M.D., M.P.H., an environmental health researcher at the University of Rochester, who is experienced in NHANES analysis, and Ana Navas-Acien, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-epidemiologist with expertise in arsenic research at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. Working with Consumer Reports statisticians, they reviewed NHANES data from 2003 through 2010 from participants age 6 or older whose urine was tested for arsenic and who had reported what they’d had to eat or drink from midnight to midnight the day before their examination. A urine test is the best measure of recent arsenic exposure because most of it is excreted in urine within a few days after ingestion.
Our study shows people who eat rice have higher arsenic levels.
Because seafood contains a form of organic arsenic called arsenobetaine, generally considered nontoxic to humans, we then excluded from our analysis anyone who reported eating seafood during the 24-hour period and those with detectable levels of arsenobetaine in their urine. The remaining participants therefore were more likely to have had exposure to inorganic arsenic, which poses the greatest potential health risks.
Our resulting analysis of 3,633 study participants found that on average, people who reported eating one rice food item had total urinary arsenic levels 44 percent greater than those who had not, and people who reported consuming two or more rice products had levels 70 percent higher than those who had no rice.
“Despite our taking into account other common sources of arsenic, and no matter which way we sliced the data, we see a very strong association between rice consumption and arsenic exposure,” says Stahlhut, who along with Navas-Acien led a similar analysis of NHANES data for our January 2012 article on arsenic in juice. That analysis found that study participants who reported drinking apple or grape juice had total urinary arsenic levels that were on average nearly 20 percent higher than those who didn’t. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, urged the FDA to set a 3 ppb limit for total arsenic in apple and grape juice.
“These findings show that rice is an important source of arsenic exposure for the U.S. population,” says Navas-Acien. The associations were even stronger for rice compared with juice and are consistent with the relatively high levels of arsenic, including inorganic arsenic, measured in rice samples, she says. She says the results underscore the need for monitoring arsenic in food and establishing safety standards. A new study of NHANES data from Dartmouth researchers also shows that rice consumption can contribute to increased urinary arsenic levels in children.

What should be done

Consumers Union believes a standard for arsenic should be set for rice, and industry should accelerate efforts to reduce arsenic levels in rice. They should also develop types of rice that take up less arsenic, and use rice with the lowest possible arsenic in products for young children, such as infant rice cereal.
Our scientists are also asking regulators to prohibit agricultural practices that may lead to increases in arsenic in rice:
  • The EPA should phase out use of pesticides containing arsenic.
  • The USDA and the EPA should end the use of arsenic-laden manure as fertilizer.
  • The FDA should ban the feeding of arsenic-containing drugs and animal byproducts to animals.
To find out more about what Consumers Union is doing on the subject and to get involved, go to On the international stage, a group advising the World Health Organization is meeting in 2014 to consider proposed arsenic standards for rice. Limits of 200 ppb (inorganic) for white rice and 300 ppb (total or inorganic) for brown rice are under discussion.
After the concerns raised by our juice story, the FDA says it is confident in the overall safety of apple juice. “FDA has made significant progress in developing a proposed action level for arsenic in apple juice and is nearing completion of this work,” the agency says in a statement.
The FDA also says it is studying arsenic in rice and rice products to determine the level and types of arsenic typically found and to identify ways to reduce it.
“The need for a standard for arsenic in food is long overdue,” says Trudy Bialic, director of public affairs for PCC Natural Markets, a Seattle-area chain that is America’s largest food co-op. “Certainly there are excellent and committed people in FDA’s ranks, but it’s shameful the agency has not addressed this problem more systematically, leaving us to figure it out on our own to protect ourselves.”

Arsenic in food

The chart below lists the rice and rice products in our tests and the levels of arsenic we found. (You can also download a printable PDF of the chart below by clicking on the photo at right.) Also, download this PDF with complete details of our test results.

How to cut your arsenic risk

Test your water. If your home is not on a public water system, have your water tested for arsenic and lead. To find a certified lab, contact your local health department or call the federal Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.

Change the way you cook rice. You may be able to cut your exposure to inorganic arsenic in rice by rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking, using a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice for cooking and draining the excess water afterward. That is a traditional method of cooking rice in Asia. The modern technique of cooking rice in water that is entirely absorbed by the grains has been promoted because it allows rice to retain more of its vitamins and other nutrients. But even though you may sacrifice some of rice's nutritional value, research has shown that rinsing and using more water removes about 30 percent of the rice's inorganic arsenic content.

Eat a varied diet. Some vegetables can accumulate arsenic when grown in contaminated soil. To help, clean vegetables thoroughly, especially potato skins. Some fruit juices such as apple and grape juice are high in arsenic, as our previous tests showed. To prevent obesity and tooth decay, pediatricians advise that infants younger than 6 months shouldn't drink juice; children up to age 6 should have no more than 4 to 6 ounces a day and older children no more than 8 to 12 ounces. Like grape juice, wine also can be a source of exposure, according to data collected in the FDA's Total Diet Study, which provides more complete information about arsenic content in a variety of foods. Go to and search for "total diet study analytical results."

Experiment with other grains. Vary your grains, especially if you eat more than two or three servings of rice per week. Though not arsenic-free, wheat and oats tend to have lower levels than rice. And quinoa, millet, and amaranth are among other options for those on a gluten-free diet, though they have not been studied as much.

A CEO reworks his toddler formulas

Jay Highman’s company makes dairy- and soy-based formulas.
Photo by: Billy Delfs

Jay Highman, the CEO and president of Nature’s One, an Ohio company that made the nation’s first organic baby formula, says he was concerned when a study published in February implicated his formula as containing arsenic. The problem: organic brown rice syrup, one of the ingredients.

“We had always been known for having the highest standards for the cleanest, purest ingredients, and overnight we became a poster child for arsenic in rice,” Highman says. He resolved that he would find a way to eliminate arsenic contamination in the rice syrup.

Highman searched for the purest source for rice and found that he had to go outside of the U.S. to find rice with the lowest possible arsenic content. He declined to disclose his source for fear larger companies “will start devouring our supply chain.” He worked with his syrup supplier to develop a filtration process that would eliminate detectable levels of arsenic.

By July, he said the combination of more pristine rice and the new filtration process produced brown rice syrup that met his goal. We included samples of two Nature’s One dairy formulas and one soy formula in our tests.

The original powdered samples we tested of dairy- and soy-based formulas had inorganic arsenic that averaged 40.6 ppb for dairy and 77.7 ppb for soy.

When we tested the new versions of the two dairy formulas, the levels were either undetectable or nearly so. The company says its new formulation has use-by dates of January 2014 (Dairy with DHA & ARA), July 2015 (Dairy), or later.

Highman says he has been reworking the soy formula and hopes to produce a product that has lower levels of arsenic. If he can’t get it lower, Highman says he will create a non-dairy formula without soy. Meanwhile, an interim soy version we tested did have somewhat lower levels of arsenic, but it had higher levels of cadmium, another toxin.


There’s arsenic in your rice — and here’s how it got there
Photo by Shutterstock.
Rice. It’s just one of the basics, right? Whether eaten on its own, or in products like pastas or cereal, this inexpensive and healthy food is a staple for Asian and Latino communities, as well as the growing number of people looking to avoid gluten.
Here’s the bad news (cue Debbie Downer sound effect): The food most of us think we have more or less locked down is shockingly high in arsenic. And arsenic, especially the inorganic form often found in rice, is a known carcinogen linked to several types of cancer, and believed to interfere with fetal development.
According to new research by the Consumers Union, which took over 200 samples of both organic and conventionally grown rice and rice products, nearly all the samples contained some level of arsenic, and a great deal of them contained enough to cause alarm. While there is no federal standard for arsenic in food, according to the Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, one serving of rice may have as much inorganic arsenic as an entire day’s worth of water. (They’ve also created a useful chart of various rice products, rice brands, and their arsenic levels.)
Rice often readily absorbs arsenic from soil where chemical-heavy cotton once grew. (Photo by Shutterstock.)
How does rice compare to other grains like wheat and oats? It turns out it’s much higher because of two main factors: How and where rice is grown. The November issue of Consumer Reports, released today, breaks down both phenomena. First, the how:
Rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more effectively than most plants. That’s in part because it is one of the only major crops grown in water-flooded conditions, which allow arsenic to be more easily taken up by its roots and stored in the grains.
Then, the where:
In the U.S. as of 2010, about 15 percent of rice acreage was in California, 49 percent in Arkansas, and the remainder in Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. That south-central region of the country has a long history of producing cotton, a crop that was heavily treated with arsenical pesticides for decades in part to combat the boll weevil beetle.
Not a big rice eater? Well, I’d argue this study matters for other reasons too; it illustrates what a long shadow industrial farming practices can cast over the entire food system — and the way some chemicals can cycle through our food and water, for literally generations. You see, in some areas, even rice grown organically is impacted because of what you might call the legacy of the soil.
For decades, farmers used lead-arsenate insecticides to control pests. As the name implies, these were extra dangerous because of their lead content and they were banned in the 1980s, but much of the arsenic that was left behind still remains in the soil. As Consumer Reports mentioned above, the worst offenders were cotton farms in the South, which relied heavily on these heavy-metal-containing chemicals. (Cotton farming, generally, is known to be some of the most “chemically dependent” farming on Earth.)
Click to embiggen.
There are still several non-lead-based arsenical pesticides on the market, and although most are in the process of being phased out, Michael Hansen, Consumers Union senior scientist, says there is still one important pesticide, called MSMA, in use on cotton farms. Ironically, Hansen says, “they’re allowing its use because of the increasing problem of Palmer pigweed — created by the overuse of Glyphosate [Roundup] due to [Roundup Ready] GMO seeds.” (Otherwise known as superweeds.) “Palmer pigweed can lead to a 25 percent-or-more loss of revenue in cotton. So federal regulators calculated that it was worth the risk to continue using arsenic herbicides.”
Arsenic has also been commonly used in animal feed to prevent disease and make both hogs and chickens grow faster. The manure from these farms also ultimately ends up adding arsenic back in the soil (it’s even permitted on organic farms). Hansen says he’s seen ample evidence that soils that have been treated with poultry manure for years “have significantly higher levels of arsenic than untreated soil.”
On the bright side, a new law in Maryland, a huge poultry farming state, will keep arsenic feed out of chicken farms there. And one poultry drug, Pfizer’s Roxarsone, was voluntarily withdrawn from the market last spring. Meanwhile there are three others are still allowed to be used outside Maryland. “We think the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] should ban those as well,” said Hansen.
In the press release associated with the study, Consumers Union recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) phase out use of all arsenical pesticides and the FDA set limits for arsenic in rice products. In response to Wednesday’s report, the FDA released an FAQ on its website describing its own testing of 1,000 different rice products. FDA officials also told the Washington Post, however, that they are “not prepared, based on preliminary data, to advise people to change their eating patterns.”
The Consumers Union, on the other hand, has a released a chart explicitly designed to help consumers limit their exposure to rice, with exact serving recommendations for both adults and children. Rice cereal, which federal surveys indicate many small children eat multiple times a day, is of special concern.
According to Hansen, rice grown in California (a relatively small subset of the U.S. industry), is also likely to have lower arsenic rates than rice grown in the South. For those interested in reducing their risk, the scientist also recommends washing the grain thoroughly before cooking it, and using a technique Hansen has observed in Asia.
“When I was in Bangladesh recently I noticed they would cook the rice with a lot of extra water — to absorb arsenic and/or pesticide residue — and then drain it off at the very end before serving it.” Hansen says this technique, over time, especially if filtered water is used, may reduce the risk of exposure to the heavy metal.


$34.4 Million Can’t Seem To Buy Prop 37 Opponents Their Own Facts
by Zack Kaldveer
Published on Monday, October 1, 2012 by Common Dreams
Apparently $34.4 million in pesticide and junk food money can’t buy the opponents of Proposition 37 their own set of facts.
Case in point: A new L.A. Times poll shows Prop 37 winning by more than a 2-to-1 margin among registered California voters. And, according to the recent Pepperdine poll the opposition's support actually dropped four points over the past two weeks.
So while their treasure trove of special interest money can pay for an endless supply of tired, discredited talking points, it can’t seem to convince consumers we don’t deserve to know what’s in the food we eat.
It’s not hard to understand why. The companies bankrolling the opposition campaign – including pesticide giants Monsanto ($7.2 million) and Dupont ($4.9 million) – will say and spend anything to prevent the kind of transparency that labeling of genetically modified foods (GMO’s) would provide. And without transparency there can be no accountability.
Here ARE a few facts: A growing body of research links GMO foods to potential health risks, increased pesticide use, biodiversity loss, the emergence of “super bugs” and “super weeds" and the unintentional contamination of conventional crops.
What Prop 37 will do is add a line of ink to a label -- as is currently required for 3,000 other ingredients -- so consumers know which products have been altered in a laboratory. That’s why the vast majority of Californians support this common-sense measure, and it’s why 50 other countries already require that GMOs be labeled.
But that’s not all: This summer, Monsanto began selling its first GMO sweet corn product at Walmart. The sweet corn is engineered to withstand the herbicide Roundup and also contains an insecticide (Bt toxin) within the cells of the corn.
Are your children eating Monsanto's latest concoction? You won’t know because we don’t require labeling. In response to Walmart’s decision to undermine the will of its customers, the Yes on 37 campaign released a new ad highlighting the fact that California children are eating unlabeled GMO sweet corn without their parents knowing it.
And now, the recently published (in the highly regarded journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology), first long-term, peer-reviewed animal study involving GMO corn found massive tumors, organ failure and premature death in rats. The findings have prompted the French government to call for an investigation into GMOs, and Russia to suspend imports of GMO corn.
The study was roundly criticized by Monsanto’s band of scientists, who were out in force trying to discredit the study design – but what they failed to mention is that Monsanto’s own studies that supposedly indicate “safety” are based on the same study design: similar size study, same rats. The only real differences are the French study was free of industry influence and pressure, was more comprehensive and stringent, and was long-term rather than short.
The most shocking thing of all about the French study is that it is the first long-term feeding study on genetically engineered corn that has been on the American market for more than 15 years. So where’s the science? The reason we have been denied such critical information is that biotech companies like Monsanto have controlled and suppressed research.
We need, and deserve, more independent research in this area. In the meantime, we have a right to know and to decide for ourselves whether we want to eat Monsanto's corn. Prop 37 will give us that right.
Zack Kaldveer is the assistant media director for the Yes on Prop 37 campaign.