Poison in a Chinese takeout container

I remember watching “Arsenic and Old Lace” in black and white with my mother. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about two spinsters who poison their suitors to death with arsenic.

Well now it appears that arsenic is found in a wide variety of rice and rice products.

This is pretty frightening. First of all, because arsenic has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and poor brain function in young children. And second of all, because rice products (like rice pastas and rice milk) have become more popular and commonplace as the gluten-free trend continues.

Consumer Reports analyzed 60 different rice products, including infant cereals, regular boxed cereals, rice cakes, rice milk, and brown and white rice. Both organic and nonorganic rice products were found to have arsenic. In fact, every rice cereal product tested contained arsenic.

Of course, the USA Rice Federation (who knew we even had one?) called the investigation “incomplete and inaccurate.”

So you’d think the FDA would step in, right? Not so fast…

“We believe rice is safe and it’s premature…to call on consumers to limit their intake of rice. FDA agrees,” says Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd, a spokeswoman for USA Rice.

Of course they agree!

They wouldn’t want to upset the apple cart of big agribusiness. So, instead, they’re also saying that there’s not enough evidence to tell people to limit rice in their diets. Despite the fact that their own testing of 200 rice products also found potentially harmful arsenic levels.

“Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains–not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food,” says FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD.

Honestly, that one statement sums the FDA up in a nutshell.

These agencies are supposed to be there to protect our health. But thanks to them, we live in a world of tens of thousands of chemicals that have “acceptable” limits. And being exposed to a “little of this” and a “little of that” adds up. Our bodies don’t know what to do with these toxins. And if they’re not eliminated properly, they can build up in your system, ruin your health…and eventually kill you.

But if we leave it up to the FDA, the best we can hope for is a new limit on how much arsenic is acceptable in rice and rice products.

How about no limit? How about eliminating it completely? Why does that option never enter into the equation?

It certainly should, considering the potential health outcomes from arsenic in your diet.

At high levels, arsenic causes discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness, paralysis, and blindness.

At the lower levels most people are exposed through food and drinking water, the dangers aren’t as well-established. But over a long period of time, consistent exposure to arsenic may be linked to higher rates of bladder, lung, and skin cancers. Long-term exposure has also been linked to heart disease, and in children, to problems with learning and IQ.

According to the Consumer Reports investigation, people who consume just one rice product per day have arsenic levels that are about 44 percent higher than those who didn’t. People who reported eating two or more rice products per day had 70 percent higher arsenic levels than those who ate none.

Call me crazy, but it doesn’t seem like those odds are in anyone’s favor. But since the FDA is dragging its heels, it’s up to us to protect ourselves. And the best way to do that is by eliminating rice–in any and every form–from your diet.

There–one less toxin to worry about. It’s that simple.

“Arsenic in your food,” Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org), accessed 10/2/12