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FDA mulls tighter arsenic restrictions for apple juice

apple juice, arsenic, fda, consumer reports
The FDA is mulling a crackdown on arsenic levels in apple juice. AP

(CBS/AP) The FDA announced its mulling tighter restrictions for arsenic in apple juice, following a Consumer Reports study that found high levels of the contaminant in grocery store-purchased juice.

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Studies show that apple juice generally contains low arsenic levels, and the government says it is safe to drink. But consumer advocates say the FDA is allowing too much of the chemical into kid's juices.

Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, said Wednesday the agency has already stepped up juice testing and research, and is seriously considering lowering the FDA's so-called "level of concern" for arsenic.

"We continue to think that apple juice is generally safe based on the fact that the vast majority of samples are very low," Taylor said. "But we want to minimize these exposures as much as we possibly can."

Arsenic is found naturally in water, air, food, and soil. Arsenic can be "organic" or "inorganic." According to the FDA organic arsenic is essentially harmless and passes through the body quickly. Inorganic arsenic - often found in pesticides - can be toxic and studies have linked it to cancer.

The FDA uses 23 parts per billion (ppb) as a guide to judge whether apple juice is contaminated. The agency has the authority to seize apple juice that exceeds those levels, though it never has.

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, called for levels to be as low as 3 ppb. For their study, Consumer Reports had tested arsenic levels using the Environmental Protection Agency's standard for bottled drinking water of 10 ppb.

The study showed that nine of 88 apple juice samples had arsenic levels that exceeded the EPA's limit, CBS News reported. But none of the samples exceeded the FDA's standards.

Urvashi Rangan of the Consumers Union is encouraged by talks the group's had with the FDA.

"We look at apple and grape juice as a poster child for arsenic in the food supply in general," Rangan said. "Chronic low-level exposure of carcinogen is something we should be concerned about."

Other experts called for more research.

"It is unclear at this point whether or not the arsenic found in apple juice is safe or unsafe," says Molly Kile, an arsenic researcher at Oregon State University. "And really the question is what do these low levels exposure of arsenic mean in terms of health and children's health?"

What should parents do?

Concerned parents should diversify the brands of juice they buy in case one brand tends to have more chemical exposure, Consumers Union says.

But most experts agree kids shouldn't be drinking much juice to begin with because it's high in calories. Pediatric recommendations state children under 6 shouldn't drink more than six ounces of juice, and infants under six months shouldn't drink any juice at all.

Gail Charnley of the Juice Products Association says the industry regularly tests arsenic levels and will follow the FDA's lead.

"Of course parents have concerns but they should know that the juice producers are committed to safety," she said. "Producers have children who drink juice too."

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