Sunday, April 10, 2011
CAN RICE BE CONTAMINATED?
We almost never hear of contaminated grains, including contaminated rice. But rice can be contaminated - like any other food. This can be a huge risk, since rice is the staple food for about half the world. Children, as well as adults, may eat large amounts of it regularly, particularly if they are poor and can afford little else. Or, you may be well off, but be more exposed to risks in rice if you go on one of the rice diets to lose weight, as a friend of mine did.
Many of the nastier things that have cropped up in rice have been absorbed into the rice from the soil they grow in. In Japan, it's now rice planting time, and the government has issued restrictions about planting in some areas affected by radiation from the Fukushima power plant, because of fears that the rice will pick up the radioisotope cesium-137 from the soil. It's sad for the rice farmers but good that care is being taken to keep the food supply safe.
But radiation is not the only hazard that rice can pick up. When I was doing the research for The Safe Food Handbook, one of the issues I became most absorbed in, and contacted top researchers world wide, was the risk of arsenic in rice. As we know, arsenic is one of the worst heavy metals. It can be present in soil, as when arsenic-based presitcides have been used on previous crops such as cotton, to control the boll weevel. Certain plants absorb arsenic, others do not. Rice is one that does.
Quite high levels of arsenic have indeed been found in rice from certain parts of south-central United States, and in some - not all - rice from countries such as Bangaldesh and India. Organic growing conditions will not guarantee that the rice will be low in arsenic, as it can stay there for very long periods of time.
These are just two possible contaminants in rice. And wouldn't it - brown rice, and especially rice bran, are likely to be more risky. Nutrition and food safety do not always agree.