In 2013 FSANZ released a survey on the levels of inorganic arsenic in a range of seaweed types and products containing seaweed, available in Australia.
The levels in most seaweed tested were below the regulatory limit for inorganic arsenic, with the exception of one hijiki seaweed sample. Because this sample was made up of two individual samples of the same brand of hijiki it may not be representative of all hijiki seaweed available for sale in Australia. Hijiki seaweed is also tested at the border for inorganic arsenic and compliance rates are high.
The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has also conducted tests on levels of arsenic in imported hijiki products and found some levels exceeding the regulatory limit for inorganic arsenic.
Using the information collected on the levels of inorganic arsenic in seaweed, dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic was estimated for the Australian population. Using the median inorganic arsenic concentrations in seaweed, the contribution of seaweed and seaweed products to total dietary inorganic arsenic exposure is likely to be small.
Australian and New Zealand population groups that regularly consume high levels of hijiki seaweed, particularly those with a high exposure to inorganic arsenic from other environmental sources in the diet should be aware that they have a higher potential health risk from exposure than the general population.
In 2010, FSANZ, together with the states and territories, conducted a survey of iodine levels in seaweed and products containing seaweed. The survey showed most seaweed and associated products have safe levels of iodine. However there were some seaweeds, particularly kombu, that contained very high levels of iodine, which can be unsafe, particularly for some vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and small children.
The Food Standards Code is enforced by agencies in the states, territories and New Zealand. FSANZ advises relevant jurisdictions about any products considered to be unsafe so they can take appropriate action.
Action at the Australian and New Zealand border
In Australia, the Department of Agriculture tests imported hijiki seaweed for arsenic and brown seaweed for iodine as they are considered a risk category food. Due to this risk category classification, 100 per cent of brown seaweed consignments are inspected and tested for iodine and 100 per cent of hijiki seaweed consignments are inspected and tested for inorganic arsenic. Hijiki consignments that do not comply with the Code cannot be imported. For more information, please refer to the risk list under the Imported Food Notice 17/11 on the Department of Agriculture website.
Hijiki seaweed is also classed by the New Zealand MPI as a high risk imported food. All hijiki seaweed that enters New Zealand is also tested for inorganic arsenic.
FSANZ will continue to monitor arsenic levels in food, including inorganic arsenic, through Australian Total Diet Studies (ATDS). The next study, the 25th ATDS, will include testing for total and inorganic arsenic in a range of foods commonly consumed in the typical Australian diet. The dietary exposure of the Australian population to arsenic levels in food will be estimated using the levels of arsenic found in the foods tested in this study.
Survey of inorganic arsenic in seaweed and seaweed containing products