EFSA publishes dietary exposure estimates for inorganic arsenic

News in brief
6 March 2014

EFSA has updated its analysis of the occurrence of arsenic in food in Europe. The analysis includes around 3,000 data samples on inorganic arsenic, which is more toxic than organic compounds. The Authority’s data specialists have also refined their estimates of chronic dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic using information from the EFSA Food Consumption Database.

The latest analysis gives lower estimates of dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic than those reported by EFSA in 2009. The accuracy of the estimates has been improved by using consumption and occurrence data that were not available in 2009 and a more detailed classification of foods.

There are no recommended maximum levels of arsenic in food at EU level, although some Member States have national guidelines.

Almost 98% of the samples of drinking water collected by EFSA contained amounts of arsenic that were below the limit established at EU level for natural mineral water and water intended for human consumption.

Arsenic is a widely found contaminant which occurs both naturally and as a result of human activity. It appears in many forms, which can be either organic – i.e. containing carbon – or inorganic. Food, particularly grain-based processed products such as wheat bread, rice, milk and dairy products, and drinking water are the main sources of exposure for the general population in Europe.

Long-term intake of inorganic arsenic has been associated with a range of health problems, including skin lesions, cardiovascular diseases and some forms of cancer.