ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, U.S. — USA Rice Federation has issued a statement calling recent stories about high levels of arsenic in rice “misleading,” noting that arsenic “is ubiquitous and present in air, soil, water, and foods.”

“Because it is everywhere in the environment, dietary exposure to arsenic comes from a variety of different sources, including fruits, fruit juice, vegetables and other grains,” USA Rice said. “There currently are no standards or limits for arsenic in food.”

The group also said most of the arsenic in U.S. rice is organic arsenic, which it said is less harmful than the inorganic type that has been linked to adverse health effects from excessively high levels in drinking water. The group added it is working with federal agencies to examine the levels of total arsenic in rice.

“Background levels of arsenic in rice or rice products have not been associated with health effects, unlike much higher levels of arsenic in drinking water,” USA Rice said. “There are no scientific studies that have linked U.S. rice consumption to adverse health effects, nor have arsenic-related health effects been reported among populations with high rice consumption. In fact, in the absence of drinking water with heavy arsenic contamination, arsenic health effects have not been found in any population that consumes much more rice than the average American.”

USA Rice’s response comes on the heels of a study released earlier this month by researchers from Dartmouth College in which high levels of arsenic were found in infant formulas and cereal bars that contain organic brown rice syrup as a main ingredient. The arsenic found in the food products has been identified as a human carcinogen, and some studies have shown it may cause skin, lung and intestinal irritation.

The research paper, published on-line Feb. 16 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that among 29 cereal bars tested, those containing syrup or other forms of rice had arsenic levels 2 to 12 times higher than the allowable limit. There currently are no U.S. regulations for arsenic in food, but the researchers said there is “an urgent need” for regulatory limits. Legislation was introduced in Congress earlier this month to establish limits for arsenic and lead in fruit juice.