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FDA moves to limit arsenic in apple juice

In a nod to consumer groups that have urged for limits on the amount of arsenic allowed in foods, the US Food and Drug Administration released a plan on Friday that would limit the poisonous element in apple juice. The proposed regulation—which will be finalized after public comments are submitted in the next two months—would not allow more than 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in apple juice, the same level set for drinking water.

“While the levels of arsenic in apple juice are very low, the FDA is proposing an action level to help prevent public exposure to the occasional lots of apple juice with arsenic levels above those permitted in drinking water,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine in a statement.

The agency said its extensive sampling of apple juice over the past two decades found that levels of the inorganic form—the most concerning type that’s been linked to heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and developmental problems—have been within acceptable limits “with few exceptions.”

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An 2012 analysis of 94 samples found that 95 percent were below 10 ppb for total arsenic and that none were over the limit for inorganic arsenic.

Consumer Reports, which previously pushed the FDA to set limits on arsenic in apple juice, applauded the FDA’s decision and called it a “reasonable first step” in protecting consumers from excess arsenic in foods.

“It also offers an important enforcement and accountability tool for regulators and a key benchmark for apple juice manufacturers,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, consumer safety director at the organization.

The Juice Products Association indicated that they, too, favored the regulation. “Apple juice producers, as well as the FDA, want people to know they can be confident that apple juice is safe,” Rick Cristol, president of the Juice Products Association, said in a statement.

While the FDA has indicated that it’s considering regulating arsenic in other foods, the agency hasn't set a timetable for when that might happen. A Dartmouth study published in 2012 found unacceptable levels of arsenic in energy shots, toddler formulas, cereal bars, and energy shots that contain brown rice syrup. And a 2012 FDA analysis—which analyzed 200 samples of rice (brown and white), rice cereals, rice cakes, and rice milk—found that many brands contain more arsenic in a single serving than what the Environmental Protection Agency allows in a quart of drinking water.

Taylor said at the time that the agency was working to establish safe levels of inorganic and organic arsenic in foods—such levels only exist for water—but that the FDA first needs to “do its homework to collect the science.”

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