Do You Love Rice? Think Again.
It’s been more than a decade since scientists first raised an alarm about arsenic levels in rice—an alarm based on the realization that rice plants have a natural ability to absorb the toxic element out of the soil.
Since then study after study has confirmed that rice products contain more arsenic than those of any other grain. In response, consumer health advocates have pushed for regulatory agencies to set a safety standard for rice (more on that story in my forthcoming feature story in the October 2013 issue of Discover).
China, a high rice-consumption country, has already moved to do so. The World Health Organization is currently taking comments on a proposed safety standard. And last year—in a somewhat grudging response to pressure from activist groups in this country—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it was also studying the issue.
Waiting for Regulation
And studying and studying, apparently. Although the FDA released some data on arsenic contamination of rice last fall—in direct response to a comprehensive report on the issue from Consumers Union researchers—the agency has yet to provide any further information or to set a deadline on when it might set a protective limit.
In frustration, public health researchers at Consumers Union and the attorney general of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, last month wrote to the FDA asking why the agency was moving so slowly to protect American consumers, underlining the point that the agency’s preliminary results found the taint of arsenic in pretty much every rice product tested.
In the weeks since then the FDA has neither budged nor attempted to clarify the situation for the public. A story on the subject by the Chicago Tribune noted that when queried the FDA refused to provide any information (my experience with this agency, by the way). And the USA Rice Federation insisted, “no arsenic related health effects from eating rice are known” (also my experience with the association).
However those assertions—and the agency’s apparently reluctant approach—may need revising: A study released last week has shown the first direct link between rice consumption and arsenic-induced genetic damage.