WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Wednesday sent letters to eight rice producers and sellers, including one in Arkansas, seeking more details on what they called the "worrisome" levels of arsenic recently found in their products.
U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., sent the letters to company officials seeking any documents they have on arsenic testing and related health risk assessments.
The two lawmakers, who serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said two separate studies released earlier this month by the Food and Drug Administration and Consumer Reports raised potential public health concerns about potential exposure to inorganic arsenic.
In a letter sent to Stephen Hilsdon, president of Della Rice in Brinkley, the two lawmakers asked him to provide all documents referring to testing for arsenic in any Della Rice products as well as any assessments of the health risks.
Consumer Reports conducted studies of a number of rice products sold at grocery stores, including some baby food, and found most contained levels of arsenic, a known human carcinogen.
The article urged people, especially small children, to limit the amount of rice products they eat.
The FDA, meanwhile, said that it was not recommending any change in consumption of rice based on its analysis of 200 samples of rice and rice products that contained varying levels of arsenic.
"We understand that consumers are concerned about this matter. FDA is committed to ensuring that we understand the extent to which substances such as arsenic are present in our foods, what risks they may pose, whether these risks can be minimized, and to sharing what we know," said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg.
Hilsdon was not immediately available for comment on the Waxman letter but the company did issue a statement on its website after the Consumer Report study was released saying that it was taking the findings "very seriously."
"We have sent a variety of samples to several independent labs to determine if the report, as it related to Della Rice, is accurate," it said.
The company website also noted that as a naturally occurring substance, it is not surprising that trace levels of arsenic would be found in a variety of fruits, vegetables and rice. U.S. rice producers, they said, are working with federal regulators as they monitor arsenic levels and work to determine safe levels.
FDA is analyzing 1,000 more rice samples and will determine then whether to issue additional recommendations.
Waxman and DeGette also sent letters to Martin Farms in Missouri, Carolina Rice in Texas, Jazzmen Rice in Louisiana, Whole Foods Market in Texas, Beech-Nut Nutrition in New York, Earth’s Best in Colorado, and Nestle Nutrition in New Jersey.