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  1. Environmental Contaminants in Food

Arsenic in Food

Arsenic may be present in food from the environment where foods are grown, raised, or processed. The levels of arsenic in the environment can vary depending on natural geographical makeup and proximity to past or current use or manufacturing of products made with arsenic. For example, arsenic levels are higher in certain soils and rocks and where arsenic-containing pesticides were once used on food crops or from the current use of those pesticides on non-food crops, and pollution from mining, fracking, and coal-fired power plants.

Because arsenic exposure at certain levels can be harmful to health, the FDA monitors and regulates levels of arsenic in foods, including dietary supplements, and cosmetics. While it is not possible to completely prevent arsenic from entering the food supply, for foods that contain arsenic, it may be possible to reduce levels through changes to agricultural or manufacturing practices. By law, food manufacturers have a responsibility to significantly minimize or prevent chemical hazards when needed.

To determine if the level of arsenic in a food is a potential health concern, the FDA considers the toxicity of arsenic and potential exposure based on the level measured in the food and estimated consumption. We also may consider the risks specific to vulnerable subpopulations (e.g., very young children). If the agency finds that the level of arsenic causes a food to be unsafe, we will take regulatory action. This may include working with the manufacturer to resolve the issue, and as necessary, taking steps to prevent the product from entering, or remaining, in the U.S. market.

Among the FDA’s top priorities is maintaining access to foods that are sources of nutrients while limiting consumer exposure to contaminants. Having adequate nutrition is vital to growth and development for babies and children and helps promote health and prevent disease throughout our lifespan. The FDA collaborates with state and federal partners, industry, and other stakeholders to identify and facilitate the implementation of sustainable and effective strategies for growing, sourcing, processing, and manufacturing foods that contain lower levels of environmental contaminants, such as arsenic, while maintaining their nutritional quality and accessibility.

For more information about the FDA’s specific activities to reduce exposure to arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium from foods consumed by babies and young children, please visit the Closer to Zero page.

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