Arsenic in juice controversy heats up again

Controversy about arsenic levels in juices has reached another level as product-testing organization Consumer Reports analysis finds that arsenic levels in some juices exceed allowable limits for water and renewed concerns about safety of these popular childhood drinks. The FDA conducted its own tests on apple juice this year after Dr. Mehmet Oz reported on his TV show high levels of arsenic in some products. The FDA said its own tests of the same products showed very low levels of total arsenic in all samples tested.

But recent testing, reported in the Consumer Reports January 2012 issue and online, on 88 samples (28 apple and 3 grape juice brands) found that 10 percent (five apple juices and four grape juices) tested had total arsenic levels exceeding federal limits in place for drinking water, reports Reuters. They include ready-to-drink bottles, juice boxes and cans of concentrate from different lot numbers at stores around New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. One in four juices had lead levels higher than the limit for bottled water set by the FDA, according to Consumer Reports. Arsenic, found in water, air, food and soil as a naturally occurring substance or from contamination, is regulated in water, but juices and other foods are not regulated.

Brands including Apple & Eve, Great Value, Mott's, Walgreens and Welch's had at least one sample that exceeded the 10 parts per billion threshold. 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. Consumer Reports also found about one-fourth of all juice samples had lead levels at or above the federal limit for bottled water.

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," said Gail Charnley, a toxicologist for the juice association. The advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, Consumer Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, said these findings should be enough to prompt the federal government to establish arsenic limits for juice.

In response to the findings, the FDA said it is expanding its surveillance activity and collecting additional data to determine if a guidance level can be established to reduce consumer exposure to arsenic in apple juice.