• Open Access

Scientific Opinion on Arsenic in Food


  • EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM)

  • Panel members: Jan Alexander, Diane Benford, Alan Boobis, Sandra Ceccatelli, Jean-Pierre Cravedi, Alessandro Di Domenico, Daniel Doerge, Eugenia Dogliotti, Lutz Edler, Peter Farmer, Metka Filipič, Johanna Fink-Gremmels, Peter Fürst, Thierry Guerin, Helle Katrine Knutsen, Miroslav Machala, Antonio Mutti, Josef Schlatter, Rolaf van Leeuwen and Philippe Verger
  • Correspondence: contam@efsa.europa.eu
  • Acknowledgement: The Panel wishes to thank the members of the Working Group on Arsenic for the preparation of this opinion: Diane Benford, Jean-Pierre Cravedi, Eugenia Dogliotti, Kevin Francesconi, Peter Fürst, Niklas Johansson, Kåre Julshamn, Margaret Karagas, Tanja Schwerdtle, Marie Vahter, Philippe Verger, Bert van der Voet, and EFSA's staff members Jean Lou Dorne, Mari Eskola, Stefan Fabiansson and Elena Scaravelli, for the support provided to this EFSA scientific output. The Panel acknowledges all the Member States that provided arsenic occurrence data in food and drinking water and supported the consumption data collection for the Concise European Food Consumption Database, Elena Dellatte from the Department of the Environment and Primary Prevention of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (Italy) for providing consumption information and calculating exposure, the partners of the EFSA project on the “Individual food consumption data and exposure” coordinated by Ghent University (Department of Public Health, University Hospital, Ghent University, Belgium), and RIKILT (Institute of Food Safety, Wageningen, The Netherlands). for the accessibility of the exposure assessment tools.
  • Adoption date: 12 October 2009
  • Published date: 22 October 2009
  • Question number: EFSA-Q-2008-425
  • On request from: European Commission


The EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) assessed the risks to human health related to the presence of arsenic in food. More than 100,000 occurrence data on arsenic in food were considered with approximately 98 % reported as total arsenic. Making a number of assumptions for the contribution of inorganic arsenic to total arsenic, the inorganic arsenic exposure from food and water across 19 European countries, using lower bound and upper bound concentrations, has been estimated to range from 0.13 to 0.56 µg/kg bodyweight (b.w.) per day for average consumers, and from 0.37 to 1.22 µg/kg b.w. per day for 95th percentile consumers. Dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic for children under three years of age is in general estimated to be from 2 to 3-fold that of adults. The CONTAM Panel concluded that the provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI) of 15 µg/kg b.w. established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is no longer appropriate as data had shown that inorganic arsenic causes cancer of the lung and urinary bladder in addition to skin, and that a range of adverse effects had been reported at exposures lower than those reviewed by the JECFA. The CONTAM Panel modelled the dose-response data from key epidemiological studies and selected a benchmark response of 1 % extra risk. A range of benchmark dose lower confidence limit (BMDL01) values between 0.3 and 8 µg/kg b.w. per day was identified for cancers of the lung, skin and bladder, as well as skin lesions. The estimated dietary exposures to inorganic arsenic for average and high level consumers in Europe are within the range of the BMDL01 values identified, and therefore there is little or no margin of exposure and the possibility of a risk to some consumers cannot be excluded.