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High Arsenic Found in Some Brands of Apple Juice

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Editor's note:  The FDA explains on its website why it does not regulate arsenic in apple juice and other foods.  It says that arsenic in foods is mostly in the organic form and because of this, it does not want to regulate apple juice as the EPA regulates drinking water in which arsenic is mostly in the inorganic form.  This also means that it is not adequate to apply the drinking water standard to apple juice.

By David Liu, Ph.D.

Sunday Sept 18, 2011 (foodconsumer.org) -- This is quite a drama!  The Dr. Oz show announced last week that apple juice of certain brands contained arsenic at levels that were higher than the limit, which is 10 parts per billion in drinking water, set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  

EMSL Analytical, Inc. at the request of the show tested some lot of apple juice packed by Nestle/Gerber and found the juice, which was imported from other countries like China, contained up to 36 ppb of arsenic even though not all the packages contained this high level of arsenic, Dr. OZ. said on the show.  The show producer also had several other brands of apple juice tested, but the Nestle/Gerber brand contained the highest level.

The disclosure, which may suggest that the apple juice is unsafe for children to drink, had drawn the attention from the FDA quickly.   A letter of the agency dated Sept 9 and addressed to Ms. Barbara Simon, Producer of The Dr. Oz Show showed that the TV show producer notified the agency of its intent to release the test results.

The FDA characterized the releasing of the test results to suggest that apple juice is unsafe to drink as irresponsible and misleading and asked the show producer not to run the show.
The FDA said the content of arsenic reported by the testing company was total arsenic that included both inorganic and organic forms of arsenic.   And only inorganic arsenic is toxic and the total arsenic does not indicate the magnitude of the potential risk, the agency hinted in its letter.

However, the up-limit of arsenic in drinking water set by the EPA is 10 parts per billion or ppb, which the EPA says clearly should include both inorganic and organic forms of arsenic.    In other words, the EPA would consider drinking water with higher than 10 ppb of TOTAL arsenic unsafe to drink.

The EPA states on its website that arsenic has been linked with a variety of cancers including bladder cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, kidney cancer, nasal cancer, liver cancer and prostate cancer. 

This Dr. OZ show was kind of emotionally charged.  Some mothers invited to the show often gave their young children apple juice, believing that the juice offers health benefits, but not realizing that some brands of apple juice may carry higher levels of arsenic than drinking water. They were upset seeing the test results.

The show was trying to make a point that the FDA should regulate the level of arsenic in beverages like apple juice to protect American children to say the least. At this time, the FDA has no standard for arsenic contamination in foods.

The FDA was trying prior to the show to stop the producer from disclosing the test results.  

In the first letter, the food and drug regulator said "The FDA believes that it would be irresponsible and misleading for The Dr. Oz Show to suggest that apple juice contains unsafe amounts of arsenic based solely on tests for total arsenic."

Then on Sept 13, four days later, it sent the TV show a second letter to inform the producer that the agency along with two food testing companies (the FDA did not disclose the names) have tested the same lot and found total arsenic content was all below 10 ppb.

It remains unknown whether the FDA released ALL the results or only those showing the lower levels.  Results from EMSL showed that some packages of Nestle/Gerber apple juice carried higher than 10 ppb of arsenic and others below 10 ppb.

In the second letter, the FDA said 

"Based on our investigation and testing, we are concerned that some of the results reported to you by EMSL Analytical, Inc., may be erroneously high. The analysis of foods can pose a challenge to analytical laboratories and seemingly minor variations in sample treatment and analysis can have a significant effect on results."

The FDA wording may give the public an impression that the agency has a doubt about the accuracy of the test results from EMSL Analytical, Inc.

EMSL Analytical, Inc. is a leading testing company in the U.S.

A testing laboratory could get sued if its test results were erroneous and used in a way that it costs a company a substantial loss in its sales. So far, no lawsuit has been reported over the testing results.

Photo credit: FDA

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