Rice milk panic

The Food Standards Agency’s recent advice not to give rice-based drinks to children under five has caused panic amongst parents of dairy and/or soya allergic children who often give rice drinks to their children.

The FSA’s report says that not enough is known about the toxicity of inorganic arsenic (the type found in the rice drinks and thought to cause cancer) to be able to set specific ‘thresholds of exposure’ although the amount found in the drinks (12 μg/kg of drink) are below the legal limits. Their advice not to substitute infant formula, cow’s milk or soya drinks with rice drinks is therefore purely precautionary.

It is to be hoped that no one would be using rice drink as a formula substitute (it is totally nutritionally inadequate) but many parents do use it as a drink. However, Rice Dream, by far the most common rice drink sold in the UK, have issued a statement to the effect that the inorganic arsenic in their products (20–30 parts per billion) is three times lower than the legal limit in the UK and therefore poses no risk.

Nutritionist Micki Rose comments:
We must remember that arsenic occurs as a natural part of our environment and is in many natural foods but obviously you don’t want to give loads of extra.

If a child is dependent on rice milk as they are allergic to soya and dairy milks and other grain milks such as oat, then you can do a hair test to check levels of arsenic in the body every six months to reassure yourself.

Personally, I think it is always a question of rotating foods as much as you can as they all have different good and bad nutritional profiles. Also, always buy organic so that the levels of what I perceive as even more harmful agrochemicals are limited.

First published July 2009

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