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US rice exported to Haiti may be harmful to health

The study started when researchers learned of reports of gastrointestinal illness in local residents after eating foreign rice.

The western US state of Montana, known for its wide swathes of wilderness, is the site of a first ever climate trial brought by young people suing the state for violating their rights to a healthy environment
The western US state of Montana, known for its wide swathes of wilderness, is the site of a first ever climate trial brought by young people suing the state for violating their rights to a healthy environment - Copyright AFP/File Fabrice COFFRINI
The western US state of Montana, known for its wide swathes of wilderness, is the site of a first ever climate trial brought by young people suing the state for violating their rights to a healthy environment - Copyright AFP/File Fabrice COFFRINI

A medical review has established that rice exported to Haiti from the U.S. contains unhealthy levels of arsenic and cadmium. This can increase the risk of various cancers, heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. This is significant since rice is a staple of the Haitian diet and Haiti, with a population of 11 million people, is the second-largest export market for U.S. rice.

Adults of varying weights consuming three or more cups of imported rice per day would exceed a daily minimum risk level for toxicity. According to recent United Nations estimates, Haitians eat an average of 2.9 cups of rice per day.

The information comes via University of Michigan researchers, together with the Community Organization for Haitian Agriculture. The study is the first to compare the amount of heavy metals in local rice compared with rice exported by foreign countries.

Testing has revealed that median concentrations for both arsenic and cadmium were nearly twice as high in imported rice compared to local rice. In contrast, all samples of rice grown in Haiti were found to have arsenic levels below international limits recommended to protect human health. Some imported rice samples exceeded these levels.

As a consequence, the researchers are requesting that policymakers update a system of trade that harms Haitians and citizens of other major rice-consuming countries by allowing foreign rice to flood local markets. This market distortion is making it nearly impossible for local farmers to sell their own.

The study started when researchers learned of reports of gastrointestinal illness in local residents after eating foreign rice. Heavy metals were the suspected cause.

Knowing the long-term health risks, a research collaboration began with rural Haitian farmers to collect samples and measure the arsenic and cadmium in local rice and rice from foreign countries.

The study has been published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development. The research is titled “Exposure to the global rice trade: A comparative study of arsenic and cadmium in rice consumed in Haiti.”

The researchers also note that with the 2024 Farm Bill soon up for discussion, there is an opportunity for legislators and their constituents to promote a more equitable system that ultimately benefits all.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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