Last updated on 25 March 2004

Arsenic in the diet

Food Survey Information Sheet 51/04

Arsenic is present in food in different chemical forms, with inorganic forms being the most toxic. Most arsenic in the diet is present in the less toxic, organic form. However, it is difficult to reliably measure the forms of arsenic present, so most surveys measure total arsenic.

The key facts of this survey are:

  • Concentrations of total arsenic are reported for each of the 20 food groups of the Total Diet Survey (TDS). The concentrations found are generally similar to those reported in previous surveys. The concentration of total arsenic in the fish group has decreased since the last TDS. Fish is the main source of arsenic in the UK diet.
  • For the first time, inorganic arsenic is reported for food groups where the concentration of total arsenic was high enough to allow the measurement of inorganic arsenic (the miscellaneous cereals group and poultry and fish groups). The level of inorganic arsenic in the fish group was low, and less than 1% of that reported for total arsenic.
  • Dietary exposures to total and inorganic arsenic for the general UK population and for mean and high level consumers were estimated. For those exposures which have been estimated previously (adult consumer and population exposure to total arsenic), exposures have decreased.
  • The independent Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) considered that the results offer reassurance that levels of arsenic in food are not increasing. It concluded that the dietary exposure to arsenic identified in the survey was unlikely to be a concern for consumer health.

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