EFSA Confirms Health Concerns Over Consumer Exposure to Inorganic Arsenic in Food

by Ella

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has raised health concerns regarding consumer exposure to inorganic arsenic in food, reaffirming the findings of its previous risk assessment conducted in 2009. The European Commission requested an update on the assessment, prompting EFSA to consider new studies on the toxic effects of inorganic arsenic.

Arsenic, a contaminant present in both natural and human-induced forms, can take various chemical structures. EFSA’s latest opinion specifically addresses inorganic arsenic, emphasizing its presence in food as a significant source of exposure for the general population in Europe. Rice, rice-based products, grains, and grain-based products are identified as major contributors to dietary exposure, with drinking water also playing a role, albeit typically at low levels in Europe.


Long-term consumption of inorganic arsenic has been linked to adverse health effects, including certain forms of cancer. EFSA focused on the increased incidence of skin cancers associated with inorganic arsenic exposure as the most relevant harmful effect during its assessment. Experts concluded that protecting against skin cancer would also mitigate other potential harmful effects.


In the evaluation of genotoxic and carcinogenic substances unintentionally present in the food chain, EFSA calculates a Margin of Exposure (MOE) for consumers. MOE is a ratio between the dose at which a small but measurable adverse effect is observed and the level of substance exposure for a given population. A low MOE indicates a higher risk.


The available data from human studies led to the conclusion that an MOE of 1 or less could be associated with an increased risk of skin cancer. For adults, the MOEs are notably low, ranging between 2 and 0.4 for average consumers and between 0.9 and 0.2 for high consumers, prompting EFSA to express health concerns.


EFSA is currently evaluating potential risks associated with exposure to organic arsenic in food. Upon completion of this risk assessment, the combined risks of exposure to both organic and inorganic arsenic in food will be assessed.



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