Rice can be found in a lot of food we consume: pasta, syrup, flour and beverages. A new investigation found that the little grain you eat actually contains different levels of arsenic and inorganic arsenic.
The Consumerist published the findings of its ConsumerReports (CR) investigation Wednesday. It tested more than 60 rice products, including regular household brands and store-brand products, such as Uncle Ben’s, Rice Krispies, Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.
Each of the products it tested consisted of an average of 4.6 to 5.68 parts per billion and another ingredient that is causing alarm is the trace of inorganic arsenic, which the publication claims can cause lung, bladder and skin cancer. More than 30 rice brands had actually exceeded the 5.6 threshold and some even tested as high as 9.6.
When comparing white rice to brown, the average levels of arsenic were higher in brown.
CR researchers decided to look at where the arsenic was coming from. It was found that white rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas, which account for three-quarters of domestic rice, had the highest traces of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic. It was even more than rice grown in places like India and Thailand.
One of the reasons is a lot of land in these states used to maintain cotton fields and pesticides contained arsenic for decades.
“Extensive surveys of south central U.S. rice, by more than one research group, have consistently shown that rice from this region is elevated in inorganic arsenic compared to other rice-producing regions,” said Andrew Meharg, professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and co-author of the book “Arsenic & Rice” in the report. “And it does not matter relative to risk whether that arsenic comes from pesticides or is naturally occurring.
Furthermore, the study found that consumers of rice had a 44 percent greater level of arsenic than those who did not eat rice. Even ethnic groups mattered in the study because Asians, Mexicans and other Hispanics also had higher levels of arsenic.
Presently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not imposed limits for arsenic in food products, but the study authors are urging the department to introduce limits in fruit juices and rice products as starting measures.
Although this study does portray the rice industry in a negative light, rice producers say these concerns about arsenic in rice are completely exaggerated.
“There is no documented evidence of actual adverse health effects from exposure to arsenic in U.S.-grown rice,” stated Anne Banville, a vice president at the USA Rice Federation. “And we believe the health benefits of rice must be properly weighed against the risks of arsenic exposure, which we believe are minimal.”
The trade group that represents the $34 billion industry noted it is working with the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to find solutions, but one company is taking matters into its own hands.
Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms in Richvale, California, told the consumer organization that it is currently testing more than 200 samples of its rice products and will share the findings with FDA scientists.
“We’re committed to providing safe food, to really listening to our consumers, and dealing with this problem very openly because doing the research needed to assess what the risks really are is the only way to go,” explained Lundburg.