The European Commission adopted new rules to lower the presence of arsenic in food products.

The commission has said that the adoption of lower maximum levels (MLs) marks another important step in delivering on the objectives of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan to limit or remove the carcinogenic risk associated to chemicals in food.

This decision, based on a 2021 scientific report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), comes after member states were called upon to monitor the presence of arsenic in foods.

Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for health and food safety, said: “We are today taking additional measures to further reduce the exposure risk of a carcinogenic contaminant from our food chain.

“Our citizens want the reassurance that the food they eat is safe, and these new rules are yet another proof that food safety standards in the EU remain the highest in the world.”

This measure will lower the allowed concentration of inorganic arsenic in white rice, while it also sets new limits for arsenic in many everyday rice-based food items, infant formula, baby foods, fruit juices and salt.

Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for health and food safety. Image: Stella Kyriakides Twitter

Arsenic in food

The existing maximum levels for arsenic in food products were established in 2015 based on an EFSA opinion that stated that inorganic forms of it may cause cancer of the skin, bladder, and lungs.

Arsenic is present at low concentrations in rocks, soil, and natural ground water, with food and drinking water being the principal routes of human exposure to it.

The commission has said that industrial emissions such as mining and burning of fossil fuels can contribute to higher levels of arsenic in the environment, as well as the use of fertilisers, wood preservatives, insecticides or herbicides that contain the contaminant.

The main adverse effects reported to be associated with long-term ingestion of the inorganic substance in humans are: Skin lesions; cancer; developmental toxicity; neurotoxicity; cardiovascular diseases; abnormal glucose metabolism; and diabetes.

There is emerging evidence of negative impacts on foetal and infant development, particularly reduced birth weight.