There's arsenic in baby cereal- this is a well-known fact for parents. But what hasn't been scientifically confirmed to date is just how much arsenic is dangerous. Now- after a CBC Marketplace story reported that levels of arsenic found in some baby foods in Canada would cause those products to be illegal over in Europe- there's major pressure for a change to be made.
The data on the matter continues to surface; but until the verdict is in, the process of setting a limit will take years. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is culpable for monitoring arsenic levels in baby food, yet until consultations between stockholders and health industries are settled the numbers remain in limbo.
Maryse Durette, the senior media relations adviser for Health Canada says, “Health Canada will continue to take steps to help ensure that dietary exposure to arsenic is as low as possible for Canadians, including infants and young children."
A proposal for new measures should be available for consultation for the food industry, professional organizations and consumers by mid-2019, with Durette adding, “In the near future, Health Canada will recommend new maximum levels for inorganic arsenic in rice, consistent with those established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an international group that sets safety standards for foods.”
Whether it's naturally occurring arsenic in water and soil or toxic arsenic-based pesticides used on some foods, heavy metal has become ubiquitous in our diets. Fatal in high quantities, low levels of arsenic don't cause urgent health issues for the average person. Having said that, long term exposure is still quite alarming. Such threats distinctly precipitate lung, kidney, skin, and bladder cancers, and also interfere with estrogen and testosterone, as well hormones which regulate both the metabolism and immune system.
CBC News shares that Dr. Supriya Sharma, a senior medical adviser with Health Canada, reports her department and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) have been monitoring arsenic in baby food- as well as water and other products- for more than ten years. In an interview with Marketplace, Sharma aimed to assure parents that the products they're providing their kids for nutrition are "very similar" to those found internationally, "regardless of what the limits are or what the regulations are."
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a risk assessment back in 2016 that found "eliminating rice and rice products from the diets of infants could reduce their lifetime cancer risk from inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products by six per cent."
Arsenic can form naturally or be a byproduct of human activity, such as industrial and farm waste- including the former use of arsenic-based pesticides. While arsenic-based pesticides are now banned in most parts of the world, arsenic can remain in both soil and water. Rice tends to absorb arsenic more readily than other crops, making the poison's presence there even worse.
The translation of new scientific findings into changes in policy will take plenty of time. On a more affirmative note, the upcoming proposal available for deliberation is unquestionably indicative of progress. Ideally, a future with new maximum levels heavy metals with a substantial scrutiny on inorganic arsenic- consistent with those established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission- is the ultimate goal for Health Canada.