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FDA, Consumer Reports release data on arsenic levels in rice.

Media coverage of data from two studies, showing arsenic levels in rice products sold in the US, focused primarily on Consumer Reports' call for consumers to reject the products versus the Food and Drug Administration, and the medical community in general, recommending against making any dietary changes until more research has been conducted.

ABC World News (9/19, story 6, 2:20, Sawyer) reported, "Scientists at 'Consumer Reports' are sounding an alarm after finding what they call 'significant and worrisome' levels of arsenic in a wide range from brown rice and white rice and products from baby food to breakfast cereal." ABC (Avila) added, "The FDA stopped short of setting arsenic limits today, saying there is no immediate danger but reminding parents a varied diet is best." FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, was shown saying, "There are lots of other grains that can be introduced into the diet. It doesn't have to be rice cereal."

The Los Angeles Times (9/20, Hsu) reports that an analysis released Wednesday by Consumer Reports said its investigation of 200 samples from about 60 rice products showed "'significant' and 'worrisome' amounts of inorganic arsenic" in nearly every one of the products the watchdog group tested.

CNN (9/20, Kounang) in its "The Chart" blog adds that also on Wednesday, the FDA "released preliminary results of arsenic levels in more than 200 rice and rice sample products." The FDA "said it expects to finish collecting and analyzing more than 1,200 samples by the end of the year," after which the agency "will determine if additional recommendations are needed."

The Washington Post (9/20, Elboghdady) reports that the Consumer Reports study found nearly all of the tested products "contained the 'inorganic' form of arsenic that's known to cause bladder, lung and skin cancers"; and the FDA's "testing of rice products yielded similar results." However, Consumer Reports is urging consumers to "reduce their rice consumption" now, whereas the FDA is not recommending a "change in eating habits."

According to the AP (9/20, Jalonick), that the FDA's preliminary results showed average levels of "3.5 to 6.7 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving" whereas Consumer Reports' showed levels "up to 8.7 micrograms," which is "roughly equivalent to one gram of arsenic in 115,000 servings of rice." Also on Wednesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined with Consumer Reports in "calling on FDA to set standards" for arsenic levels, but Dr. Hamburg cautioned that neither study has "tested enough samples to be certain of any trend." Dr. Hamburg said the agency "will not complete its study until the end of the year and cannot draw any conclusions from the results until then." For now, she said the agency's advice 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."

ABC World News (9/19, story 7, 1:10, Sawyer) (9/19, story 7, 1:10, Sawyer) asked Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser. "Rice? How worried are you?" Dr. Besser said, "The key question that hasn't been answered yet is how risky is it to your health? We'll not know that until the FDA study is done next year. "

Similarly, the CBS Evening News (9/19, story 9, 2:00, Pelley) (9/19, story 9, 2:00, Pelley) reported, "The average American consumes about 26 pounds of rice each year, and so we asked Dr. Jon LaPook whether we should be concerned?" CBS (LaPook) explained, "There is no evidence so far these levels are unsafe. The FDA is conducting its own intensive study on arsenic levels and rice; and Commissioner Hamburg says, so far, there is no reason for people to stop eating rice." Dr. Hamburg was shown saying, "The levels that we have found are within a range that does not pose an immediate threat to health."

Additionally, on NBC Nightly News (9/19, story 8, 2:30, Williams) (9/19, story 8, 2:30, Williams), Hamburg was shown saying, "Well, our best advice is a varied diet I am a mom and I always recommend to my kids moderation in what they eat." NBC (Rossen) added, "'Consumer Reports' has similar advice, eat rice in moderation and when you do, rinse it thoroughly to wash off some of the arsenic. And if you're a parent serving your baby rice cereal, limit it to once a week."

CQ (9/20, Brasher, Subscription Publication) adds that the FDA's Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor stressed that it is "critical to not get ahead of the science." Taylor said the agency's "ongoing data collection and other assessments will give us a solid scientific basis for determining what action levels and/or other steps are needed to reduce exposure to arsenic in rice and rice products."

Meanwhile, Reuters (9/20, Baertlein, Humer) notes that the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal has joined the fray, calling for arsenic level regulations. Reuters quotes her as saying, "Consumers should demand that the FDA do a better job of patrolling inorganic arsenic in the food supply."

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