After more than a year of public pressure from consumer advocates and concerned parents, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday it will set new limits on the level of arsenic allowed in apple juice, matching those permitted in drinking water.
Any apple juice containing more than 10 parts per billion could face removal from the market and its manufacturers could risk legal action, the agency said. FDA officials emphasized that the agency has been monitoring arsenic levels in apple juice for decades and that the overwhelming number of products on the market meet such a standard.
"The FDA is committed to ensuring the safety of the American food supply and to doing what is necessary to protect public health," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in announcing the move.
The issue gained national attention in September 2011 in the wake of a report on The Dr. Oz Show, in which host Mehmet Oz told viewers that various brands of apple juice tested by the show contained total arsenic levels that were too high. The FDA chided Oz at the time for not drawing a distinction between organic and inorganic arsenic. Both can occur naturally throughout the environment, but only the inorganic form is a known carcinogen.
Months later, Consumer Reports published the results of its own study, in which dozens of samples of apple and grape juices from stores in the Northeast showed elevated levels of the toxic form of arsenic. Those findings led Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, to pressure the FDA to lower acceptable arsenic levels in foods.
Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety for Consumers Union, welcomed Friday's move.
Questions of arsenic aside, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that parents should encourage children to eat whole fruit instead of sugar-laden juices, saying that "it is not necessary to offer children any juice to have a well-balanced, healthy diet." The group has said infants shouldn't drink fruit juice at all, and children under 6 should drink limited amounts.