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Are arsenic levels in apple juice too high?

Arsenic levels allowed in apple juice may be too high, but even the consumer groups that are most concerned can't agree on the right levels.

Arsenic in many apple juice products is causing a stir with consumer groups. They are saying the maximum allowable levels are too high and that there is not enough oversight by the FDA.

Amy Sancetta/AP/File

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The Food and Drug Administration is considering tightening restrictions for the levels ofarsenic allowed in apple juice after consumer groups pushed the agency to crack down on the contaminant.

Studies show that apple juice has generally low levels of arsenic, and the government says it is safe to drink. But consumer advocates say the FDA is allowing too much of the chemical — which is sometimes natural, sometimes man made — into apple juices favored by thirsty kids.

There is little consensus on whether these low levels could eventually be harmful, especially to children. Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, said Wednesday the agency has already stepped up testing and research on arsenic in apple and other juices and is seriously considering lowering the FDA's so-called "level of concern" for the contaminant.

"We continue to think that apple juice is generally safe based on the fact that the vast majority of samples are very low," Taylor said. "But we want to minimize these exposures as much as we possibly can."

Arsenic is naturally present in water, air, food and soil in the two forms — organic and inorganic. According to the FDA, organic arsenic passes through the body quickly and is essentially harmless. Inorganic arsenic — the type found in pesticides — can be toxic and may pose a cancer risk if consumed at high levels or over a long period.

The FDA uses 23 parts per billion as a guide to judge whether apple juice is contaminated. The agency has the authority to seize apple juice that exceeds those levels, though it has never done so.

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