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Superior Health Council issues report on arsenic in food for infants and young children


In an advisory report of November 2018, the Belgian Superior Health Council (SHC) recommends avoiding the use of rice and rice-based products for the feeding of young children. The SHC assessed the exposure of infants and young children to arsenic, by designing series of nutritional scenarios. The Council estimated arsenic exposure for each of these scenarios. It came to the conclusion that children’s exposure to arsenic is generally higher than that of adults.

Although arsenic is, in excessive doses, linked to lung, urinary tract and skin cancer, it was not possible to accurately identify health risks for children’s ‘typical’ exposure to arsenic. The SHC therefore advises to keep the exposure of young children to arsenic as low as possible, as a precautionary measure.

Rice and rice-based products are known to contain relatively high doses of inorganic arsenic. Rice plants are by nature prone to more efficiently accumulate arsenic present in the soil. Furthermore, the flooded soil where rice fields are often located, increases the bioavailability of the substance.

Switching out rice and rice-based products in children’s diets is therefore an efficient measure to reduce arsenic exposure, according to the SHC report. Reducing the frequency of rice meals from once per week to once per month, is estimated to reduce arsenic exposure for a 6-month-old by 37%, and for a 3-year-old by 23%.

Studies like the one presented in this report show the close interconnectedness of food safety issues and (sometimes human induced) environmental factors.

Full report is available in English on the following page https://www.health.belgium.be/en/advisory-report-9252-arsenic