Dangerous levels of arsenic have been found in seven popular baby rice products sold in supermarkets.
Tests on 26 baby rice foods for Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped programme revealed that almost a quarter broke EU safety rules.
Food research expert Professor Andy Meharg told the programme that parents should restrict baby rice feeds to 30 grams a day – about three tablespoons. But he told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I would not feed young children rice at all.
‘As a parent I would want to take problematic things out. I would not want to take a risk with it.’
Prof Meharg, of Queen’s University Belfast, said even small concentrations of arsenic could have a severe effect on young children’s immune development, growth and IQ. He called for much clearer information on packaging.
Many foods contain low levels of naturally occurring arsenic, but rice has high levels because it is grown in flooded fields where traces are higher and are absorbed more easily.
Exposure to arsenic over a long period increases the risks of cancer, especially in infants.
Baby rice – which is ground to a fine consistency and usually has added vitamins – is claimed to help wean babies off breast milk and on to solid foods.
Several mothers interviewed on Food Unwrapped, which is to be broadcast tomorrow at 8.30pm, were shocked by the levels of arsenic, with one describing them as ‘scary’. Another said: ‘There should be more warnings because I wouldn’t give my child that product.’
The worried mothers demanded much clearer labelling on all baby rice products, with one calling for a simple colour-coding system such as those that list nutritional values and levels of sugar and fat.
Food Unwrapped does not name the seven products with high levels of the element.
A Food Standards Agency spokesman said: ‘Arsenic is naturally occurring in the environment and it is not possible to totally eliminate it from the diet. But because it has the potential to increase the risk of illnesses, including cancer, it is important to reduce exposure to as low as reasonably achievable.
‘Maximum legal levels are in place for arsenic in rice, with stricter levels for rice used in the production of foods for infants and young children. It is the responsibility of food manufacturers to ensure they use ingredients in compliance with the legislation. Where non-compliance is found, enforcement officers will investigate and take action as needed.’