Arsenic Levels in Fruit Juice Cause Concern

Arsenic Levels in Fruit Juice Cause Concern
Flickr/Ben Garney

Thanks a lot, Mott's. Dr. Oz threw down the gauntlet a couple months ago when he commissioned a study that found that 10 of three dozen apple juice samples had a total arsenic level exceeding federal safety standards of 10 parts per billion (ppb). Now a new study from Consumer Reports backs up his findings, finding high levels of arsenic and lead in some popular apple and grape juices. (There's no federal arsenic threshold for juice or most foods, though the limit for bottled and public water is 10 ppb.)

The magazine announced Wednesday that it had tested 88 juice samples, and found roughly 10 percent -- mostly from five brands -- had arsenic levels above 10 parts per billion (ppb). You know, the stuff that killed Madame Bovary and various characters in Agatha Christie novels. (Read CR's full report here if you really want to freak yourself out.)

Brands including Apple & Eve, Great Value, Mott's, Walgreens and Welch's had at least one sample that exceeded the 10 ppb threshold, CR said. Levels in the apple juices ranged from 1.1 to 13.9 ppb, and grape-juice levels were even higher, 5.9 to 24.7 ppb. CR also found about one-fourth of all juice samples had lead levels at or above the federal limit for bottled water.

Because juice is a mainstay of many children's diets, the group said they could be particularly vulnerable to health issues associated with arsenic, including certain forms of cancer. Mounting scientific evidence suggests that chronic exposure to arsenic and lead even at levels below water standards can result in serious health problems, CR said.

The 88 samples came from 28 apple and three grape juice brand products that were purchased by the consumer group. They included ready-to-drink bottles, juice boxes and cans of concentrate from different lot numbers at stores around New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The findings were released online and will be featured in the January 2012 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

The study has prompted Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, to urge the FDA to set arsenic and lead standards for apple and grape juice. Their scientists believe that juice should at least meet the 5 ppb lead limit for bottled water, but they recommend an even lower arsenic limit, 3 ppb.

The FDA conducted its own tests on apple juice after Dr. Oz's show about arsenic in juice aired. The agency said its own tests of the same products showed very low levels of total arsenic. It also claims that most arsenic in juices is of the organic type that is "essentially harmless." (CR says the arsenic they found was inorganic.)

The Juice Products Association said comparing juice to water standards was not appropriate. "Fruit juice producers are confident the juice being sold today is safe," Gail Charnley, a toxicologist for the juice association, told Reuters.

Who's to blame for this potentially poisonous juice? Our old friends the Chinese, according to CR: "Over the years, a shift has occurred in how juice sold in America is produced. To make apple juice, manufacturers often blend water with apple-juice concentrate from multiple sources. For the past decade, most concentrate has come from China," where arsenical pesticides are still used on crops. First you poison our pets and then you mess up our honey. Thanks for sending us even more toxic crap, China.

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