EUROPE – The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has expressed concerns about European consumers’ dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic, a toxic heavy metal that is particularly prevalent in rice and rice-based products, as well as grains and grain-based products. 

The recent risk assessment by EFSA reiterates the findings of a previous assessment conducted in 2009, identifying inorganic arsenic as a health concern due to its association with various adverse effects on human health.

Inorganic arsenic exposure is linked to a range of health issues, including skin, bladder, and lung cancers, as well as low birth weight, miscarriage, stillbirth, infant mortality, congenital heart disease, neurodevelopmental effects, respiratory disease, chronic kidney disease, atherosclerosis, and skin lesions. 

EFSA established a reference point of 0.06 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day, representing the lowest dose associated with an increased induction of skin cancer.

The risk assessment considers a margin of exposure (MOE) for consumers, where a low MOE indicates a greater risk.

 For inorganic arsenic exposure, MOEs in adults range between 2 and 0.4 for average consumers and between 0.9 and 0.2 for high consumers. Despite uncertainties, EFSA identifies a health concern for the European population, stating that high consumers of inorganic arsenic may have an increased risk of developing skin cancer with 69 percent certainty.

The assessment acknowledges certain limitations and uncertainties, such as variations in exposure estimates from different studies and the impact of genetic differences on susceptibility to arsenic toxicity. 

EFSA calls for future work to better understand arsenic’s health effects, including its molecular mechanism causing DNA damage, the role of human variations in susceptibility, the interplay between epigenetic and genetic alterations induced by arsenic, and the health effects of pre- and perinatal exposure.

As part of its recommendations, EFSA also suggests the development of further guidance on the use of human data in risk assessments. These insights will contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the risks associated with inorganic arsenic exposure and guide future strategies to minimize its impact on European consumers.

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