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Arsenic and rice


Rice millers in the UK and elsewhere in the EU regularly monitor their products for the presence of inorganic arsenic (iAs).  The overwhelming majority of rice is consumed as grain rather than in processed foods. Over 1000 tests have been undertaken by millers during the last eighteen months, on white and brown rice.  Average levels of iAs are well below the new maximum limits established by the European Commission in January 2016, and more than 99% of individual test results are also in compliance. 

Rice is an important and nutritious contributor to a balanced and healthy diet. These results demonstrate that there is no health risk associated with the regular consumption of rice purchased in the UK.

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As arsenic is naturally present in air, soil and water, a wide range of foods may contain arsenic at trace levels, and in some countries water is a very significant source. Arsenic can be present in organic and inorganic form. Inorganic arsenic is believed to be bad for health if consumed regularly at high levels over long periods of time.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) undertook a major review of the main sources of iAs in the European diet, published in March 20141.  This found that the main source was grain based foods (excluding rice).  Milk and dairy products along with drinking water were also significant sources.  Depending on age group, according to EFSA, rice accounted for 5% to 15% of dietary intake of iAs.  For adults in the UK the estimate was 14%.

Based on the extensive EFSA evidence review and the development of limits within the World Health Organisation’s  Codex Alimentarius, the European Commission has established maximum limits for iAs in rice and rice products.  The regulation sets out limits of 0.20 mg per kg for white rice, and 0.25mg/kg for brown rice.  A lower level of 0.10 mg/kg is set for products intended for children, and a slightly higher limit of 0.30 mg/kg for certain puffed rice products. The rice sector welcomes the establishment of regulatory controls which will help to protect consumer health and provide clarity to industry.  Steps have already been taken to ensure compliance.

As noted above, more than 1000 tests were undertaken by rice millers in the 18 months before the regulation came into force. These covered rice (brown rice, white rice and broken rice) from over 20 origins; and showed that rice used by UK and other European millers conforms with the proposed limits in more than 99% of cases, the majority being well below.  For each of the six main sources of rice (India, Italy, Pakistan, Spain, Thailand and Vietnam) the average level for total arsenic was below the proposed limit for inorganic arsenic.

1 “Dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic in the European population”,  EFSA Journal 2014;12(3):3597

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