Queen's Policy Engagement

EU needs to do more to lower arsenic levels in infant food

Research at Queen’s highlights that EU laws introduced in January 2016 regarding carcinogen inorganic arsenic should be revised to ensure a lowered concentration of arsenic in baby food.

EU needs to do more to lower arsenic levels in infant food

Research at Queen’s University’s Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) has shown that further lowering the concentration of arsenic in baby food could be set following widespread compliance of the 2016 regulation.

Inorganic arsenic is a carcinogen that is found to be around 10-times higher in rice than in other staple foods. It impacts on child IQ, growth rates and immune development.  

The latest research, which is published in open access publisher PLOS, set out to establish inorganic arsenic levels in UK baby foods, as well as their general (that is, not specifically labelled as being for infant consumption) equivalents for the UK. This was to observe how the new EU laws were being enforced, and to identify if specific children’s products had diverged from generic porridges, grain cakes and breakfast cereals.

Laws regarding the level of the carcinogen inorganic arsenic were set by the EU to protect the most vulnerable in our society – babies and infants. It is encouraging to see a decrease in the level of inorganic arsenic in infant products but I would suggest the EU should revise and lower its current regulations.

The findings of the survey also compared concentrations found in previous investigations. Research carried out by the IGFS in 2017 revealed  baby foods containing rice – which is the staple diet of half the world’s population – to be widely above the EU limits. The introduction of the standard has led to widespread compliance, primarily by reformulating foods for young children to contain less rice.

I would suggest that the EU standards were set at too high a level and that the response of the food industries to regulation shows that they can readily comply.

Our results show that attaining lower inorganic arsenic standards in infant foods is readily achievable.


In 2017, Queen’s launched a Social Charter, a formal initiative reflecting the breadth and depth of the University’s local and global impact. The initiative includes 19 Signature Projects including the work of the Institute of Global Food Security on inorganic arsenic in rice.


The featured image has been used courtesy of a Creative Commons license. 



Professor Andy Meharg
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Andy Meharg is a Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Queen's University Belfast. His research is focused around how chemicals, nutients and pollutants transfer environmental media into agronomic, human and wildlife foodchains by combining analytical chemistry, ecology, genetics and (eco)toxicology.

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