FDA Cracks Down On Arsenic Levels In Apple Juice; How Dangerous Is The Contaminant For Your Child?

The FDA Puts Stricter Limits On Arsenic Levels In Apple Juice: Is It Safe For Kids?
The US Food and Drug Administration has set new limits on arsenic levels in consumer apple juice, just as the EPA has done for water. Imcountringufoz, CC By-ND 2.0

Parental fears of arsenic levels in their children's apple juice may be quelled by the new restrictions set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency is placing strict limitations on the already-low levels of arsenic allowed in apple juice.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today proposed an 'action level' of 10 parts per billion, or ppb, for inorganic arsenic in apple juice," the FDA announced in a news release on Friday.

Public pressure from consumer groups has forced the FDA to take a closer look at the effects of regular arsenic consumption, ultimately changing its decision after decades of monitoring low levels. Previously the FDA had permitted 23 ppb levels of arsenic in apple juice; however, after conducting research over the past two years, the agency's tests have concluded that the levels should be lower than previously allowed for consumption.

Is it safe for children?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends four to six ounces or half a cup of apple juice for one to six year olds everyday. Apple juice serves small amounts of a variety of vitamins and minerals, but its side effects could also bring about gastrointestinal problems, especially for very young children.

Apple juice, in fact, does not contain a significant amount of fiber: a one-cup serving only provides .5 grams of dietary fiber, while children four to eight years of age should consume at least 25 grams daily.

"It's like sugar water," Judith Stern, a nutrition professor at the University of California, Davis, told the Huffington Post. "I won't let me 3-year-old grandson drink apple juice."

Under the new regulation, some apple juice manufacturers will have to change their recipe, but agency officials have stressed that a large majority of the juices currently on the shelves are already below the new threshold.

"Overall the supply of apple juice is very safe and does not represent a threat to public health," Dr. Margaret Hamburg, FDA Commissioner, told the Associated Press. "We decided to put forward this proposed action level to give guidance to industry and to assure ongoing safety and quality."

Last year, Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, set arsenic level limits at 3 ppb, and is now glad to see the FDA has called for stricter limits as well.

"While we had proposed a lower limit, we think this is a perfectly good first step to bring apple juice in line with the current drinking water limits," said Urvashi Rangan, the director of consumer safety at Consumers Union.

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) standard arsenic standard for drinking water was set at 10 ppb in January 2006, in order to "protect consumers served by public water systems from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic," according to the EPA's Proposed Arsenic in Drinking Water Rule Regulatory Impact Analysis.

The ruling affected an estimated 13 million Americans. The impact analysis also showed that children are "especially susceptible to health effects from arsenic because their dose of arsenic will be, on average, higher than that of adults exposed to similar concentrations."

The EPA also warns pregnant and lactating women who are particularly vulnerable because of the "adverse reproductive and developmental effects of arsenic." Fortunately, now that the FDA has tightened up the arsenic allowances in apple juice, parents can be more confident that what they're providing for their child is safer to consume than previously shelved products.

What are the harmful effects of arsenic?

Traditional American apple juice is made from apple concentrate, and 60 percent of the apple imports used come from China. Arsenic is a heavy silvery-gray metal known to cause cancer. The naturally occurring chemical is found in the earth's crust and is odorless and virtually tasteless, according to the National Library of Medicine.

So, why is it found in apple juice? Arsenic compounds can be found in everything from water to soil, and are used in wood preservatives, pesticides, certain kinds of glass, solders, and medicines. Consuming or breathing large quantities of arsenic can cause death, as arsenic is considered a human carcinogen, according to the National Toxicology Program. It has been known to cause skin, lung, bladder, liver, kidney, and prostate cancer, along with posing increased health risks to developing fetuses.

The FDA will take comments from experts and concerned consumers alike on the current draft regulation for 60 days before reinforcing the new limits.

"We don't have standards like this in most foods," said Rangan. "So it's an important precedent."

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