FRIDAY, July 12 (HealthDay News) -- A new limit on the level of arsenic allowed in apple juice was proposed Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The move comes after a year of pressure from consumer groups concerned about the contaminant's effect on children.
The new standard would limit the amount of arsenic in apple juice to the same maximum level permitted in drinking water, 10 parts per billon, the agency said in a statement. Apple juice containing higher levels of arsenic could be removed from the market and companies could face legal action in those cases.
The FDA will accept comments on the new draft regulation for 60 days before making the new arsenic limit official.
Back in November, a study in Consumer Reports found many apple and grape juice samples were tainted with arsenic.
The researchers detected the chemical element at levels exceeding federal drinking-water standards in 10 percent of 88 juice samples tested. The samples involved five brands of juice sold in bottles, boxes or cans of concentrate.
"This is very disconcerting on several levels. Parents should be worried," Dr. Peter Richel, chief of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y. , said at the time of the study's release. "Hearing this should make parents say no to juice."
Most of the arsenic detected was inorganic, meaning it's known to cause bladder, lung and skin cancer. It can also up the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and some reports have stated that arsenic exposure can affect brain development in children.
Concerns about apple juice safety first arose last September when Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of "The Dr. Oz Show," said that about one-third of apple juice samples he'd tested had arsenic levels exceeding 10 parts per billion.
The FDA's own analysis of dozens of apple juice samples last year found that 95 percent were below the new limit. The agency has monitored arsenic in apple juice for decades and has long said the levels pose no threat to consumers, including small children.
"Overall, the supply of apple juice is very safe and does not represent a threat to public health," FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg told the Associated Press on Friday. "We decided to put forward this proposed action level to give guidance to industry and to assure ongoing safety and quality."
Arsenic is a cancer-causing chemical found in everything from soil to water to pesticides.
In 2008, the FDA set a "level of concern" for arsenic at 23 parts per billion in apple juice. However, agency officials played down the significance of the older figure this week, describing it as a "back of the envelope" calculation that was used to assess one juice shipment detained at the border, the AP reported.
"It was not a full blown, science-based number," said Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods.
A limit as low as 3 parts per billion had been called for by Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports. While the FDA didn't implement that low a limit, the group still praised the agency for taking action.
"While we had proposed a lower limit, we think this is a perfectly good first step to bring apple juice in line with the current drinking water limits," Urvashi Rangan, the group's director for consumer safety, told the AP.
New limits on arsenic in rice are also being considered by the FDA. Rice is believed to have higher levels of arsenic than most foods because it is grown in water on the ground, ideal conditions for absorbing the chemical.
Responding to the Consumer Reports study in November, the Juice Products Association issued a statement saying that juice is safe for all consumers, adding the industry "adheres to FDA guidelines and juice products sold in the U.S. meet and will continue to proactively meet or exceed the federal standards," the Los Angeles Times reported.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more on arsenic in drinking water.