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Hijiki (Hizikia fusiforme)
12 November 2004
An Eden Response to CFIA and FSA Warning
In October 2001 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued a Fact Sheet stating that Hijiki, also known as Hiziki, a brown sea vegetable contained inorganic arsenic that exceeded tolerable daily intake levels. No test results or methods of analysis were given. However, they did state, "Although no known illnesses have been associated with consuming hijiki seaweed to date, inorganic arsenic is suspected of causing cancer in humans and exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic has been linked with gastrointestinal effects, anemia and liver damage." As a result of the CFIA warning, three years later on July 28, 2004, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Britain issued a warning advising people not to eat hijiki because of the high level of inorganic arsenic that it contains. The level of inorganic arsenic was not a result of pollution, but appears to be more dependent on the species concerned. The FSA tested a variety of other sea vegetables including arame, nori, kombu, and wakame and found them to contain no or minute trace amounts of inorganic arsenic. All nine samples of the various brands of hijiki, however, did contain varying levels of inorganic arsenic. While the FSA advised people to stop eating hijiki, they stated that if you have been eating hijiki occasionally it is unlikely that you will have raised your risk significantly of getting cancer. They also stated that risks are similar for everyone and children and babies are not at more risk.
The FSA contacted vendors selling hijiki and advised them that the warning was intended only to give consumers a choice. The vendors were told that the FSA was not planning to take further action regarding hijiki. The FSA further stated that hijiki has not been banned, as did the CFIA, and that any ban would warrant more research than that which is currently available.
After reviewing the CFIA and FSA information, as well as countless scientific documents regarding inorganic arsenic, Eden Foods is presenting the following information for your review in order for consumers to fully understand our position regarding inorganic arsenic in hijiki.
• The Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare posted a statement July 30, 2004 on the Internet stating that, "There are no records of cases of arsenic poisoning as a result of the arsenic content of sea vegetables."
According to the 2002 National Diet Study, the Japanese daily intake of sea vegetables is on average 14.5g. This amount includes all sea vegetables such as nori, kombu, wakame, arame, agar agar and hijiki. Based on figures for national production, imports and exports this would mean that hijiki consumption would amount to 6.1% of the total sea vegetable consumption. Based on these figures, the daily hijiki intake would amount to 0.9g.
On September 24, 2004 the Japan Consumer Press reported online that the weekly dietary intake of hijiki, based on the daily intake of 0.9g, does not exceed the provisional inorganic arsenic level set by the World Health Organization. Furthermore they do not agree with the standards currently used in Britain and America for inorganic arsenic intake, which are based on the severe arsenic content of water in countries like India and Bangladesh, where 47 million people suffer from arsenic poisoning due to daily intake of polluted drinking water. According to our research this severe pollution is due to agricultural chemicals, industrial chemicals, human waste contamination, and industrial mining. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare posed the question, "Then is the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake of inorganic arsenic established by WHO an unsafe, untrustworthy international standard?" In the same article it is stated, "Hijiki with abundant dietary fiber and indispensable minerals is a seaweed that is deeply rooted in Japanese eating habits." The Japanese government recommendation is to consume hijiki once a week as part of a normal, healthy balanced diet.
In 1988, the World Health Organization set a Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI) of 15ug (mcg) per kilogram (kg) of body weight for inorganic arsenic. For a person weighing 50kg (110lbs.) this equals 107ug (mcg)/per person/per day. The FSA study results for hijiki showed a maximum inorganic arsenic level of 22.7mg/kg in soaked hijiki. Based on these figures, even if this hijiki was consumed, the PTWI would not be exceeded unless a person was consuming 4.7g daily over an extended period of time.
The FDA tolerable daily intake is 130ug (mcg) per day. The EPA however, based on high levels of arsenic in water sample from Taiwan, India and Bangladesh is 0.0003mg/kg/day or 15ug (mcg) per day for a person weighing 50kg.
• The CFIA and the FSA failed to inform consumers that all of the negative research regarding inorganic arsenic was performed on various species of laboratory animals often injecting or feeding them very high amounts of pure inorganic arsenic chemically extracted from various sources. There are no cases of arsenic poisoning in either laboratory animals or humans who where fed hijiki, or any other sea vegetable in whole form, which contain many valuable nutrients and compounds such as organic arsenic, referred to as arsenosugars. A study published in 'Clinical Chemistry', 1998 reported that when human subjects ingested seaweed-containing arsenosugars (organic arsenic) "that the arsenosugars demonstrated the ability to metabolize, breakdown and eliminate inorganic arsenic." They further reported, "Our results suggest that the commonly used biomarkers of exposure to inorganic arsenic, based on the measurement of arsenite, arsenate, MMAA, and DMAA, are not reliable when arsenosugars are ingested in the diet. The ingestion of arsenosugars in the human diet will invalidate the use of conventional biomarkers of exposure to inorganic arsenic." Tokyo University researchers pointed out in 1980, "arsenic in hijiki is elaborated as an organic compound, which is readily decomposed into a sugar."
• Several studies have demonstrated that organic arsenic compounds are changed to inorganic compounds during arsenic testing due to the highly acidic nature of the testing mediums used, specifically hydrochloric acid, sodium borohydride, methanol, nitric acid, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals, as well as micro waving. It is a common laboratory practice to soak sea vegetables in these acid compounds before and during testing.
The National Institute for Environmental Studies, Ibaraki, Japan reported, "Recent publications have reported that hijiki contains half of its arsenic burden as inorganic arsenic with the balance as unknown organic compounds. Some authors have noted the possibility that inorganic arsenic may have been released from a larger molecule by acidic conditions generally employed for extraction and analysis." After their analysis using various methods of extraction they reported, "We found no evidence to suggest that arsenate was present in initial extracts or in purified fractions as other than free arsenate. Although, arsenites, and methyarsonic and dimethylanosides were at extremes of pH, it is possible that it may have been generated by the acidic conditions employed in previous analytical procedures."
The Japanese Society of Scientific Fisheries report, "It was recently pointed out that H. fusiforme is elaborated as an organic compound which is readily decomposed into sugar and an inorganic arsenical on acid hydrolysis. Therefore, the use of hydrochloric acid in the selective determination of arsenic might cause a conversion of a large part of organic arsenic into inorganic arsenic during the experiments. Judging from these results, it could be concluded that most arsenicals in marine organisms are present in organic forms. Since organic arsenicals showed a lower toxicity than inorganic ones, the results may support that marine organisms can be safely eaten as food even though they contain arsenic at high levels."
• Drs. Y. Sugawa-Katayama, M. Katayama, C. Sakiyama, and Y. Nakano conducted research on two groups of animals - one injected with pure inorganic arsenic and the other was fed a diet including pulverized hijiki mixed in with their food. They reported, "arsenic metabolism was affected by the hijiki diet, the hijiki diet seems to accelerate methylation of arsenic." Methylation of inorganic arsenic upon digestion reduces its toxicity by metabolizing it, breaking it down into less harmful forms and eliminating it from the body within a matter of hours.
• Rather than being a source of heavy metals in the diet, sea vegetables have been shown to cleanse the body of heavy metals and other toxins. Alginate or alginic acid is a polysaccharide that is abundant in sea vegetables, especially brown sea vegetables including hijiki, wakame, kombu and arame.
Research conducted by a team of scientist led by Dr. Y. Tanaka at McGill University, in Canada, have demonstrated that alginic acid binds with heavy metals in the intestines, renders them indigestible, and causes them to be eliminated primarily through the urine. They concluded that the body would not absorb any heavy metals such as barium, cadmium, lead, mercury, zinc and arsenic, as well as radioactive strontium-90 present in the intestines, from any source.
Drs. Seiben and Teruko Arasaki, well known Japanese authorities on sea vegetables concluded that, "Heavy metals taken into the human body are rendered insoluble by alginic acid in the intestines and cannot, therefore, be absorbed into the body tissues." They further report that alginic acid in sea vegetables actually helps bind and draw out any similar toxins that are already stored in our bodies.
• Research conducted by a team of scientists at the Department of Food Science and Technology, National Fisheries University, Japan states, "Arsenic in prepared edible brown alga hijiki, Hizikia fusiforme', "To reduce the arsenic content of the leaves and branches of an edible brown alga, hijiki Hizikia fusiforme, the Japanese traditional washing and soaking process before cooking was shown to be effective: 32 to 60% of the arsenic was removed from the alga at room temperature. Increasing the amount of water in which the hijiki was soaked did not affect arsenic removal. On the other hand, arsenic content decreased linearly as the temperature used to wash and soak hijiki increased from 0 to 60° C. in the washed and soaked hijiki."
• The Japanese have always recommended washing and soaking hijiki, and the soaking water is discarded. It is a well known fact that hijiki is not consumed daily in Japan (usually once every 7 to 10 days) and never in large amounts, usually 2 to 3 tablespoons including other vegetables cooked with it.
• On November 26, 2003 our laboratory results for inorganic arsenic in EDEN Hiziki was 0.006% or 61.6ug/g (1ug = 1mcg) this equals 0.0613mg/g. On October 19, 2004 we again had Eden Hiziki tested, this time instructing the lab to prepare a dry, unwashed, unsoaked sample, using their standard method of testing, and another sample prepared following the instructions on our package (wash, soak in warm water for 15 minutes, discard soaking water) before testing. This test showed the inorganic arsenic level of the dry sample at 0.0059% or 59.6ug/g (equals 0.059mg/g). The soaked sample was 35.9ug/g, this equals 0.0359mg/g or 0.00359%, a reduction of over 40%. When our Purchasing Department contacted our independent laboratory that conducts our analysis, they were puzzled by the request to have hiziki tested again. Their reaction was, "why are people so concerned, the inorganic arsenic is such a small percentage, they should be more worried about other sources" such as fish, shellfish, and non- organic white rice. Based on our calculations, consuming Eden Hiziki once every 7 to 10 days, in the recommend small quantity, would be far below the PTWI established by the World Health Organization.
As a distributor of several varieties of sea vegetables, including hijiki (hiziki) we feel confident, after reviewing all the documented scientific evidence, that EDEN Hiziki does not pose a health risk when eaten in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet and when properly cleaned and soaked, as has been done in Japan for centuries. We would like to encourage our consumers to follow our package directions: "wash, soak for 15 minutes in warm water, drain, rinse well and discard the soaking water."
It is important to choose sea vegetables wisely. EDEN Hiziki is wild grown and hand harvested from the clean, cold, Arctic current seas of Japan's northern most island of Hokkaido, an area that is not densely populated or industrialized. After harvesting it is boiled and dried in the traditional manner.
It is our sincere hope that the statements made and the documented research presented will help to ease any anxiety regarding EDEN Hiziki, and we hope that you will continue to enjoy this wonderful gift from the sea.