New Limits Proposed for Arsenic in Apple Juice

By Kim Smiley

The FDA recently proposed a new limit for the amount of arsenic allowed in apple juice.  The proposed limit would match what has already been established for bottled water.  This marks the first time that the FDA has established an arsenic limit for food or drinks other than water.

This issue can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  A Cause Map lays out the causes that contribute to an issue in an intuitive, visual format so that the cause-and-effect relationships are obvious.  The first step of the process is to fill in an Outline with the basic background information for an issue.  The Outline also documents the impacts that the issue is having on the organizational goals so that the full effect of the issue can be clearly understood.  In this example, the concern that consumers may be exposed to arsenic, a known carcinogen, is an impact to the safety goal.  The media hype surrounding this issue is also important to consider because consumer concern could impact sales.

After the Outline is complete, the next step is to ask “why” questions and use the answers to build the Cause Map.  So why is there arsenic in apple juice?  Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance that is found in the environment.  There are also places that have been contaminated by arsenic, primarily the result of arsenic-based pesticides.  Use of arsenic-based pesticides in the US ended by 1970, but parts of the world still use them.

To understand this issue, it’s also important to understand the public relationships portion of  the puzzle. The concern over arsenic in apple juice exploded after the issue was featured on the “The Dr. Oz Show” in 2011.  Outcry after the segment was well covered by major media outlets and the issue has repeatedly made headlines over the past two years. Consumer Reports has also issued a report about samples of apple juice that test above the limit for drinking water.  None of this can possibly be good for the apple juice business.

The final step of the Cause Mapping process is to use the Cause Map to develop solutions.  A limit for arsenic in apple juice should go a long way to easing concerns if it is established.  The proposal is to set the limit for arsenic in apple juice to match that for drinking water, which should be conservative since consistent consumption of more apple juice than water seems unlikely.   Producers of apple juice that is found to contain arsenic above the limit could face legal action and the juice could be removed from the market.  How much the new limit will actually impact the products on the shelf is unclear because different sources have reported widely different sample results, but at least action could be taken if any juice is found to have arsenic levels above the limit.