EUROPE – The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has highlighted the health risks associated with dietary exposure to dimethylarsinic acid (DMA), a small organic arsenic species prevalent in various foods.

This new scientific opinion provides the European Commission (EC) with a foundation for possibly setting maximum levels for these organic arsenic compounds in food products.

Small organic arsenic species are compounds featuring methyl groups attached to arsenic, with monomethylarsonic acid V (MMA[V]) and dimethylarsinic acid V (DMA[V]) being the most common in the food supply.

The highest concentrations of these compounds are typically found in rice, algae, and seafood. The EC requested that the EFSA provide four scientific opinions on arsenic in food, incorporating recent scientific findings since the last assessment in 2009.

This request includes evaluating new studies on the toxic effects of both inorganic and organic arsenic.

The first of these opinions, published in January 2024, reassessed the risks of inorganic arsenic in food, concluding that dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic poses a health concern for European consumers.

The current opinion focuses on small organoarsenic species, with upcoming opinions slated to address complex organoarsenic species and combined exposures to inorganic and organic arsenic by early 2025.

EFSA’s risk assessment concentrated on MMA(V) and DMA(V), the predominant small organoarsenic compounds in food, due to limited data on other species.

While data on developmental, reproductive, and neurotoxic effects of these compounds were incomplete, rodent studies revealed that DMA(V) exposure at certain levels increased the incidence of urinary bladder tumors.

Health risks and margin of exposure approach

EFSA established that an MOE (Margin of Exposure) approach was suitable for these compounds due to the lack of clear health-based guidance values.

The reference point for DMA(V) was set at 1.1 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, equivalent to 0.6 milligrams of arsenic per kilogram of body weight per day. This estimate marks the lowest dose associated with an increased risk of urinary bladder tumors following DMA(V) exposure.

Rice and fish emerged as the highest dietary contributors to exposure to MMA(V) and DMA(V). While MMA(V) did not present a health concern for any age group, DMA(V) did, with evidence suggesting it could be genotoxic and carcinogenic.

The required MOE for DMA(V) to be considered unlikely to pose a health concern is 10,000 or higher. However, dietary surveys indicated that calculated MOEs for DMA(V) often fell below this threshold, particularly among high consumers.

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