Food Politics + Justice arsenic in rice

Published on September 27th, 2012 | by Guest Contributor

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Is there arsenic in your rice?





by Anna Hackman

arsenic in rice

The rice in your pantry could contain dangerous levels of arsenic. Here’s what you can do about the arsenic in rice problem.

Arsenic in rice is back in the news again as a recent Consumer Reports’ study revealed dangerous levels in both rice and products containing rice. The study joins a long list of several prior studies, which includes the recent February 2012 Dartmouth study. Despite all the research, the FDA and the European Union have failed to act. This inaction prompted my petition calling on the FDA and EU to regulate arsenic in rice and by-products.

How did this happen?

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the soil. However, inorganic arsenic is found in the soils that were contaminated by arsenic based pesticides and fertilizers, industrial districts or mining areas, municipal waste, or contaminated water.

Eighty percent of the rice is grown in the US is from the south central area on lands that were previously sprayed with arsenic pesticide to reduce cotton boll weevils. In addition, arsenic laden manure has been used as fertilizer. The arsenic remains in the soil. Due to the nature of how rice is grown in flooded waters, it sucks up the arsenic from the soil.

Why should you be concerned? Check Your Ingredients. You might be thinking, “I don’t eat rice so I can’t be affected.” Not true since many products contain rice syrup, brown rice flour, and other rice ingredients. People, who are gluten free, eat rice as a staple, and young children and babies who eat rice products are most affected.

Arsenic in Rice: Take Action

The arsenic issue affects both organic and conventional rice. 80% of all rice grown in the US comes from areas where arsenic is an issue. However, this takes some legwork to know which rice products are safer than others. The good news is, this problem can be solved. Farmers can make agricultural changes such as not flooding their lands as much and changing the breed of rice they grow which is less sensitive to arsenic.

Consumer Reports recommends limiting your rice intake. They provide the following guidelines:

  • Rinse your rice before cooking.
  • Limit your intake of rice products, especially rice milk. See the Consumer Reports chart below for specific recommendations for adults and children for different rice products.

arsenic in rice servings - via Consumer Reports

In the meantime, please sign the petition asking for regulation. Also, share it on Facebook, Twitter, and via email. We should not have to agonize over  ingredients so that we don’t exceed the daily rice limitations recommended by Consumer Reports.

However, until the FDA acts, be sure to wash your rice first and cook it in 6 parts water to 1 part rice. Read here for more tips and different grains to source.

Let’s not wait until the next study.

Image Credit: Rice photo via Shutterstock

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  • http://www.greenbusinessowner.com Scott Cooney

    Thank you for the informative and straightforward article, and especially the thoughts about mitigating exposure by cutting rice products down. Was there any difference in the amount of arsenic found in organic rice versus the agrichemically grown stuff? Lundberg’s, a California company doing organic brown rice for as long as I can remember, would be an interesting test study–since they’ve farmed the same fields for decades without using chemicals, I wonder if the level would be much lower there. If not, then it seems like a systemic problem, and certainly something we should be attacking at the federal/global level to curtail not rice, but pesticides and fertilizers.

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  • Chelsea

    What about rice grown in Asia? I only buy short-grain, so I sometimes eat California-grown rice, but usually it’s from Thailand.

    And maybe I missed something, but why would you cook your rice in 6 parts water? It would get mushy and gross! (reminds me of when I lived in France – everyone I knew there boiled rice in a big pot of water, then strained it, as if it were pasta! Blah! )

    Thanks in advance if you can answer these!

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