Arsenic in Brown Rice Syrup Panic: Media Scare Americans Off Organic Food, Back to High Fructose Corn Syrup

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

I'm effin' pissed. 

Discovery News published an article yesterday titled "Organic Foods Can Be Loaded with Arsenic." Lots of similar headlines soon popped up all over the Web.

For the casual reader, this header could be translated as, "healthy foods poison you." I know the first things I think of when I hear "organic foods" are fruits and vegetables.  

But that's not what this thing is about. At all.

The actual news is that brown rice syrup has been found to contain arsenic. The sweetener is used in organic infant formulas and some natural cereal bars and confections as a substitute for high fructose corn syrup. The concentrations researchers found were very high compared to other foods or the amount allowed in the drinking supply. Scientists at the National Institute of Health are behind the the investigation, the findings of which have only been published in abstract form.

The information is certainly important, especially in that unknown numbers of babies are slurping down high concentrations of arsenic. 

But what is the basis for the claim that "you might actually be making a potentially toxic decision" when you reach for an organic candy bar, as the writer of the Discovery News article so vaguely put it? 

Though it's been linked to cancer, no one knows exactly what amount of arsenic is safe for human consumption. Arsenic is present in all rice, a food that has historically been a staple for many cultures, without having ostensible toxic effects. We've known about arsenic in rice for a long time. In the process of reducing the rice down to a syrup, it makes sense that the arsenic concentration would also increase. Why is it such a surprise that brown rice syrup has a high arsenic concentration, and why is the news being presented in this misleading, broadly terrifying way?

Who is sponsoring the researchers investigating the ills of high fructose corn syrup substitutes? Given that rice has long been known to contain arsenic, why is this "brilliant" discovery just leaking out now, in such a dramatic way? Should we consider that it might be linked to the desperate high fructose corn syrup defense campaign industrial farming conglomerates are waging to protect their most abundant cash crop? 

The bottom line is, Americans don't need any discouragement from eating healthily. Inaccurate headlines that indicate that organic foods - not "organic baby formula" or "organic convenience foods" are "loaded with arsenic" are completely irresponsible when so many Americans are already consuming a pitiful dearth of fruits and vegetables. 

Don't buy baby formula with brown rice syrup in it - breast feed, for Christ's sake! And eat fruits instead of buying "healthy" candy made with organic brown rice syrup. Just don't cop out and go running fearfully back to products that contain high fructose corn syrup, the pervasive cheap sweetener that is fueling America's obesity epidemic.

Follow Short Order on Facebook and Twitter @Short_Order.

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.