A Consumer Reports article entitled, “Arsenic in your juice: How much is too much? Federal limits don’t exist,” has raised the question: Why does EPA regulate the amount of arsenic (10 parts per billion, ppb) that can occur in public drinking water, but FDA has no regulations involving the level of arsenic in apple—or grape—juice?
The Consumer Reports article cited a lab study it commissioned that found combined arsenic levels as high as 13.9 ppb in apple juice and 24.7 ppb in some grape juice samples. Combined arsenic levels include organic arsenic (not considered a problem as it is a naturally occurring part of the fruit) and inorganic arsenic (typically caused by pesticide and other chemical residues). Inorganic arsenic is poisonous and can cause cancer and other health issues. In most cases cited, the samples show inorganic arsenic far outweighing organic arsenic levels, typically by a factor of three to one or higher.
It’s no doubt that discussions like these come up, especially because the instrumentation used to make these tests is getting easier to use and faster to get accurate results. “Thermo Fisher has developed a highly sensitive and specific method for analyzing arsenic levels in apple juice,” says John Plohetski, vice president and general manager, ion chromatography/sample prep at Thermo Fisher. “The ability to distinguish between organic and inorganic forms of arsenic is critical, and our equipment is sensitive enough to capture that data accurately and reliably.”
Meanwhile, FDA has been testing and monitoring fruit juices, including apple juice, for arsenic content for more than 20 years, says Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. “We are confident in the overall safety of apple juice consumed in this country because we continue to find that apple juice, on average, contains low amounts of arsenic.”
According to FDA, tests done in 2010 and 2011 show on average about 3 ppb of arsenic in apple juice. That is lower than the 10 parts ppb set by EPA as the maximum level allowed in public drinking water. Recent tests conducted as late as the last quarter of 2011 show varying results, but with most samples, under 10 ppb for total arsenic levels.
“We want to minimize the public’s exposure to arsenic in foods as much as we can,” says Taylor. For that reason, FDA plans to consider all the relevant evidence, and based on this work, FDA may set a guidance or other maximum level to further reduce arsenic in apple juice and juice products.
To further protect the public health, FDA is also taking the following actions:
• Enhancing its surveillance of arsenic in apple juice and juice concentrate. The agency will shortly have results for an additional 90 samples of apple juice and juice concentrate, and soon after will sample additional types of juice and juice concentrates
• Continuing to test samples of apple juice imported into the United States from China. The most recent results included more than 70 samples from China, and 95 percent of these contained less than the 10 ppb level used for drinking water.
• Working with the EPA to coordinate the review of the risk assessment being prepared and discussing other steps the two agencies can take to reduce the overall levels of arsenic in the environment and in foods.
FDA, however, recommends that the public consume a variety of foods and beverages, and follow a well-balanced diet consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.