Update: Arsenic in Apple Juice?
In December of 2011, Best Food Facts interviewed Connie Diekman, RD, about the overall safety of apple juice. At that time, she said the FDA was reassessing whether the acceptable levels of arsenic in juices needed to be adjusted, following reports of potentially unacceptable levels.
Today, the FDA proposed new regulations for arsenic in apple juice. The proposed "action level" is 10 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in apple juice. This is the same level set by the EPA for arsenic in drinking water. The FDA is establishing this threshold to provide guidance to industry, and they take the action level into account when considering an enforcement action, if it finds a food product exceeds the threshold.The FDA will accept public comments on the proposed action level and the risk assessment for 60 days.
From our original interview in December 2011, here is what Connie Diekman, RD, past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and current Director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, had to say:
Best Food Facts: Reader Karen wonders, "Why is there arsenic in juice in the first place?"
Connie Diekman, RD: Arsenic is in juice for a variety of reasons. Residual from the soil when fertilizers and pesticides contained it, water that is used on the trees or in processing and some can be from packaging. The real concern is if the type is organic or inorganic.
Best Food Facts: Reader Karen also asked, "With the way processors are able to can or freeze food, why do they have to add this additive to it? Our parents and grandparents and their parents didn’t and we were a lot healthier then, than now... so why add it to our food?"
Connie Diekman, RD: It is not added intentionally most of the time. And a point of clarification: in fact, the levels used to be much higher than they are now, due to the use of fertilizers and pesticides that were arsenic-based.
Best Food Facts: The FDA said the initial study didn’t differentiate between inorganic or organic arsenic. Does this matter?
Connie Diekman, RD: Yes this is the key issue - at least as we know now. Inorganic arsenic is the form that is known to be associated with increased cancer risk; organic arsenic has not been shown to increase risks.
Best Food Facts: Dr. Randy Worobo at the Cornell University Department of Food and Science said that the amount of tests conducted was not statistically significant. Is this consistent with your understanding of the research?
Connie Diekman, RD: This is definitely an evolving issue. We have some studies and they are the basis for this growing concern. However, we need either more consistent studies or a very good large scale study to provide more evidence to define risk, appropriate levels and further assessment of organic arsenic and its impacts.
Best Food Facts: The drinking water standards for arsenic (10 parts per billion) are based on a person weighing 70 kilograms (about 155 pounds) who drinks 2 liters (about 8.5 cups) of water a day. The concern of Consumer Reports is based on the long-term risks of getting cancer. Based on your understanding, is this a legitimate concern?
Connie Diekman, RD: The inorganic arsenic is a risk for cancer and the concern with this current number is that children don't weigh 155 pounds.
Best Food Facts: A representative from Consumer Reports said that 23 parts per billion (arsenic in juice) is much too high. Based on your understanding, is this a fair statement?
Connie Diekman, RD: EPA has set a lower level for water (10 parts per billion) and they have used this figure as the reference for why the amount in juice is not an issue. IF the amount of arsenic is in fact as high as 23 parts per billion, it is too much.
Best Food Facts: One commenter online said, “This article could just as easily been titled "New study finds all juice in compliance with FDA requirements for arsenic." It is written in a way to get everyone worked up, and half the people here manage to make it a political issue.” It’s an interesting comment, since the research compared arsenic levels in juice to standards for water. Is that a fair statement?
Connie Diekman, RD: The important factor here is that we need to learn more about arsenic in juice, and in the interim we need to educate parents that fruit intake should mean eating fruit and limiting/avoiding juice.
Best Food Facts: Given that FDA is now considering revising the standards, should we all be concerned for the juice in our cupboards and refrigerators?
Connie Diekman, RD: As a Registered Dietitian, I'm not worried about the juice we have at home, but I would like to see more research and more education about how juice should more appropriately fit into a healthful eating plan.
Best Food Facts: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends diluting juice and limiting consumption of juices to 4 to 6 ounces for children under six years and to 8 to 12 ounces for children older than six years. Our reader, Phyllis, asked, "How much of a concern should this be for teenage children or adults?"
Connie Diekman, RD: The amount of juice consumed is the key. Children, and some adults, drink too much juice. Juice does not provide the fiber of fruit, which not only aids satiety but also controls the quantity of fruit consumed. Juice also seems to contribute to tooth decay, especially in young children. Switching children to apples and grapes would be an excellent way to improve nutrition and reduce intake of the sugar in juice, and possibly arsenic.
Poll Question: Water – How much do you drink per day?