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Arsenic levels in apple juice to get closer scrutiny

| Friday, July 12, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

Almost two years after consumer groups raised alarms over arsenic levels found in apple juice, the Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed an “action level” of 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic, the same limit that environmental regulators place on drinking water.

The agency said it was confident that apple juice is generally safe for children and adults to drink but the new limit will make it easier to take enforcement action when higher levels of arsenic are discovered.

“FDA's action level sends a strong signal to industry to help keep out of the food supply even the occasional lot of apple juice with arsenic levels above those permitted in drinking water,” FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman said in an email. “The action level will also provide FDA investigators with the information they need when considering regulatory action.”

Of 94 samples of apple juice the FDA tested in late 2011, none was found to exceed 10 ppb of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, the agency said.

In 2008 the FDA established a “level of concern” for inorganic arsenic in apple juice at 23 ppb. Like an action level, a level of concern can trigger regulatory responses if exceeded, such as ordering further testing or detaining products.

But both levels are seen as less stringent than a formal standard, or tolerance level, which if violated can trigger immediate legal action.

Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said developing tolerance levels involves “an extraordinarily long and cumbersome rulemaking process” while action levels can be initiated less formally and changed to adapt to new evidence.

Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability for Consumers Union, called the FDA's announcement a move in the right direction.

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