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Posted by Dr. Bruce Semon, November 17, 2012

 Cottonseed Oil Arsenic

Recently, Consumer Reports has written two alarming articles about arsenic in our food supply.  In January, 2012, Consumer Reports reported on arsenic in apple juice and grape juice.  (Arsenic in your juice, How much is too much? Federal limits don’t exist, Consumer Reports Magazine: January 2012)  They followed upon on this report with an investigation of arsenic in rice ( Arsenic in your food,Our findings show a real need for federal standards for this toxin,Consumer Reports magazine: November 2012)

The foods tested, rice and juice, contained varying levels of arsenic, from low to high.  Of particular concern was rice.   Arsenic was present in rice and rice-containing foods, from 50 parts per billion to 900 parts per billion.  To put this in context,  New Jersey sets an arsenic level of 5 parts per billion in drinking water.   Consumer Reports warned people  to avoid products which have higher arsenic levels and to watch one’s overall intake of rice products.

I was quite alarmed by the findings of Consumer Reports, because arsenic is a poison.  But rice and juice are not the only sources.  I will explain below how arsenic permeates our food supply, chiefly infiltrating through foods containing cottonseed and cottonseed oil.  This includes just about everything in our food supply.

The opening question is, why is arsenic found in rice products?    The reason is that rice is most commonly grown in the same regions where cotton is grown.   Arsenic-containing pesticides are used very heavily in cotton-growing areas, and arsenic is still present in the environment in these places.   Rice plants pick up the arsenic from the soil.

If rice picks up arsenic, what about cotton?  The answer is yes, cotton also picks up the arsenic. We generally think of clothing when we think of cotton.  We don’t eat the clothing, so this is no big deal.  However, the seed from the cotton plant is a major part of our food supply.  Cottonseed enters our food supply not only directly, as cottonseed oil, but indirectly as cottonseed meal which is a large component of animal feed     Cottonseed oil is used heavily in commercial preparation of oil-containing foods, including potato chips.

Unfortunately, nobody has measured arsenic in cottonseed-containing foods recently.  However, dating back to 1969, cottonseed contained significant amounts of arsenic. .[i]  Some of the measurements are in the same range as for rice (130 parts per billion) but the numbers go as high as ten times as high as that amount.    The arsenic content of the cottonseed meal which is fed to animals was measured at 10 to 30 times the arsenic content of rice.[ii]

Cottonseed is fed heavily to farm fed fish, to chickens, to beef cattle and to pigs.  So what is the arsenic content of meat?  In some studies reported in 1969, meat and poultry usually have less than 1000 ppb[iii] but fish and marine animals accumulate arsenic more efficiently and can contain 1000 to 10000 parts per billion and sometimes more.[iv]  In 1973, meat, fish, poultry and dairy products accounted for 78.7 % of the dietary intake of arsenic.[v]

We need more research on the amounts of arsenic in all of our food, including cottonseed and cottonseed containing food!

If you are concerned about the poisons in the foods you eat, watch for Dr. Semon’s new book on the relationship between cottonseed and Alzheimer’s, due out Spring 2013.



[i] Bradicich, R. Foster, N. E., Hons, F. E. Jeffus, M. T., Kenner, C. T. Residues in food and feed.  Arsenic in cotton products and various commodities.  Pesticides Monitoring Journal.  3(3): 139-41, 1969.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Corneliussen, P. E. : Residues in food and feed. Pest. Monit. J. 2, 141 (1969)

[iv] Lunde, G.: Activation analysis of trace elements in fishmeal. J. Sci. Food Agr. 19, 432 (1968)

Lunde. G. : Analysis of arsenic and selenium in marine raw materials. J. Sci. Food Agr. 21, 242 (1970).

[v] Mahaffey, K. R., P. E. Cornliussen, D. F. Jelinek and J. A. Fiorino: Heavy metal exposure from foods.  Environ. Health Perspectives. 12, 63 (1975).

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Dr. Bruce Semon, M.D., Ph.D.

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— Dr. Bruce Semon