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  1. Environmental Contaminants in Food

Arsenic in Food and Dietary Supplements

Arsenic may be present in foods because it is in the environment. The levels of arsenic that are naturally in soil, air, and water are generally low but can vary depending on the environmental makeup of local areas. The levels of arsenic in the environment can also be higher because of past use of arsenic-containing pesticides on food crops and limited current use of those pesticides on non-food crops, and pollution from mining, fracking, and coal-fired power plants.

Arsenic in the environment can be taken up by plants, including fruits, vegetables, and grains, as well as by animals. It is more common in certain foods and foods grown in geographical areas with higher levels of arsenic.

Arsenic is toxic to humans and can affect people of any age or health status. One form of arsenic, inorganic arsenic, is the most potentially harmful. The FDA monitors and regulates levels of arsenic in foods, including dietary supplements, and cosmetics. While it is not possible to prevent or remove arsenic entirely from foods, levels in food can be reduced. By law, food manufacturers have a responsibility to implement controls as needed to significantly minimize or prevent exposure to chemical hazards, including arsenic.

To determine if the level of arsenic in a food is a potential health concern, we consider the toxicity of arsenic and exposure based on the level of arsenic measured in the food and consumption by specific population groups (e.g., very young children). If the agency finds that the level of arsenic in a food causes the food to be unsafe, we take action, which may include working with the manufacturer to resolve the issue and taking steps to prevent the product from entering, or remaining in, the U.S. market.

The FDA’s goal is to limit consumer exposure to arsenic, with a focus on protecting the very young, through developing regulations, action levels, and advice to consumers. The agency considers the health effects of the ‘whole food’, which includes the potential harmful health effects of specific contaminants that may be present, as well as the food’s nutrients that are vital to growth and development for babies and small children and help promote health and prevent disease throughout our lifespan.

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

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