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Survey of inorganic arsenic in seaweed and seaweed-containing products available in Australia

(January 2013)

Executive summary

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) conducted a small survey investigating levels of inorganic arsenic in dried seaweed and products containing seaweed available in Australia. This survey was conducted as part of the FSANZ surveillance and monitoring program in 2010 with the intention of reviewing our consumer advice released in 2004. In November 2004, FSANZ issued a media release advising Australian consumers to avoid hijiki seaweed as it may contain high levels of naturally occurring inorganic arsenic.

The levels of inorganic arsenic in various seaweed types tested were all below the maximum level (ML) for seaweed of 1 mg/kg in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code), with the exception of one composite sample of hijiki seaweed. The details of the hijiki seaweed were referred to the relevant jurisdiction for further investigation and/or any relevant follow-up activity. High inorganic arsenic concentrations in hijiki seaweed are consistent with findings in other countries. The levels of inorganic arsenic in products containing seaweed (e.g. seaweed chips) were comparable with the levels reported for similar foods in other countries.

Inorganic arsenic survey results were combined with results from the 23rd Australian Total Diet Study (ATDS) to estimate total inorganic arsenic dietary exposure. In general, consumption of seaweed and seaweed products in the Australian population is likely to be low and the resulting contribution to total dietary inorganic arsenic exposure is therefore likely to be small for the general population. Population groups or individuals that have a high exposure to arsenic from other sources in the diet, and who also regularly consume hijiiki seaweed, should be aware that they may have a higher potential health risk from arsenic than the general population. FSANZ has therefore reviewed and updated the factsheet for consumers regarding seaweed, which is available on the FSANZ website.

The findings from this survey indicate that the majority of samples tested demonstrated compliance with the requirements in the Code, with the exception of one composite sample of Hijiki. This high level of compliance is consistent with the monitoring conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) at the border.

FSANZ will continue to monitor arsenic levels in food through the ATDS. The next ATDS (the 25th study) will investigate arsenic levels, including inorganic arsenic, in a range of foods commonly consumed in the typical Australian diet.

Download: Survey of inorganic arsenic in seaweed and seaweed-containing products available in Australia (pdf 786 kb) | (word 2 mb)

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