Arsenic in apple and grape juice

Ten percent of apple juices and grape juices have higher arsenic levels than are allowed in drinking water in the United States, according to a new study by Consumer Reports.

The magazine analyzed 88 samples of fruit juice purchased at stores in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Several well-known brands, including Walmart, Mott’s, Walgreens and Welch’s, had levels higher than 10 parts per billion of arsenic, the threshold set by the federal government for bottled and tap water.

Twenty-five percent of the samples, including juices from such brands as Gerber, Trader Joe’s and Minute Maid, had more than 5 parts per billion of lead, according to Consumer Reports.  Five parts per billion is the standard set for lead in bottled water by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We’re not telling parents to freak out or throw out all their juices, but we are concerned about the public health consequences,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumer Reports, who added that children are particularly vulnerable because of their smaller body size and because juice is often a staple of their diet.

Long-term exposure to arsenic, which is odorless and tasteless, has been linked to cancer of the bladder, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver and prostate, and high levels of lead in drinking water can result in delays in physical and mental development, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Juice Products Association said in a written response to the report that “juice is safe for consumers of all ages.”

Arsenic is a semi-metal element in the periodic table. It is odorless and tasteless. It enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices.

Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness in hands and feet; partial paralysis; and blindness. Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.

EPA has set the arsenic standard for drinking water at .010 parts per million (10 parts per billion) to protect consumers served by public water systems from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic.  Water systems must comply with this standard by January 23, 2006, providing additional protection to an estimated 13 million Americans.

The group added that the levels of arsenic and lead in the products tested by Consumer Reports were within the Food and Drug Administration’s “level of concern” set for juices, which is 23 parts per billion for arsenic and 50 parts per billion for lead. If a company’s product is above the “level of concern,” the FDA can, but doesn’t have to, take action against the company.

Are apple and other fruit juices safe to drink?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been testing for arsenic in apple juice and other fruit juices for decades as part of FDA programs that look for harmful substances in food. We continue to find the vast majority of apple juice tested to contain low levels of arsenic. For this reason, FDA is confident in the overall safety of apple juice consumed in this country.

Why is arsenic being found in fruit juices?
Organic and inorganic forms of arsenic can be found in soil and ground water, and as a result, small amounts may be found in certain food and beverage products.

Arsenic-based pesticides were commonly used in United States agricultural production up until 1970, when more effective substances became available. As a result, trace levels of organic and inorganic forms of arsenic can be detected in some agricultural settings, which may lead to small amounts of arsenic in certain foods and beverages.

Consumer Reports recommends that babies under six months of age not drink any type of juice, and that children six months to six years should have no more than four to six ounces a day, and that older children have no more than eight to 12 ounces a day.


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