Arsenic in Rice? Get the Facts & Get Active

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This gluten-free green diva is not happy that my rice and rice products may contain high levels of arsenic. Seriously? Asenic??? Ugh. Seems like I’ll be eating bark and berries pretty soon . . .

Here’s a guest green diva post by my brilliant and very busy fellow Green Sister from the Green SisterHood, Anna Hackman. Anna is a sustainability consultant, co-founder of the Green Sisterhood, editor of Green Talk a green living and business blog, and  obsessed gardener.  But her most important job is being a mom of four boys.  

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

How did Arsenic get into rice in the first place? 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 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.  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.

What is the danger?  According to the EPA, the ingestion of inorganic arsenic can lead to cancer of the  skin, bladder, liver, and lung. There are no studies of low levels long term arsenic exposure in food; however studies relating to low level arsenic exposure  in water have shown increased likelihood of  diabetes 2 and poorer neuropsychological functioning.

According  to Michael Harbut, MD, chief of the environmental cancer program at Karmanos Institute in Detroit, “There is an awful lot of chronic, low-level arsenic poisoning going on that’s never properly diagnosed.”

Why should YOU  be concerned?  You might be thinking, “I don’t eat rice so I can’t be affected.”  Not true, since many products contain rice and its by products. Look for rice flour, brown rice syrup, and simply rice in the crackers, cereal, cereal bars, baby food, gluten free food, energy bars, and energy drinks just for  starters. Worse yet, babies  eat a lot of rice products such as cereals and needless to say, they are more sensitive to chemicals like arsenic.

Does it affect all rice?  No. However, 76% of all rice grown in the US comes from areas where inorganic arsenic is an issue.  However, this takes some legwork to know which rice products are safer than others. And It doesn’t matter if you only eat organic rice since arsenic is already in the soil before rice is planted.

What can you do to reduce Arsenic level? Consumer Reports recommends  certain guidelines to limit your rice intake.  But simply, wash your rice first and cook it in 6 parts water to 1 part rice.  Read here for more tips, different grains to source, and how agricultural changes can reduce the problem.

But we need to change.  Sign the petition asking the FDA to regulate arsenic in rice..  We should not have to agonize over the ingredients so that we don’t exceed the daily rice limitations recommended by Consumer Reports. Please share the petition with your friends and family (ten per day) right on the petition page. You can also share on Facebook, Twitter, and email.  It takes a village.

Anna Hackman is the organizer of the Change.org arsenic in rice petition and thanks everyone who signs and gets the word out about the petition.  

About the author / 

Megan McWilliams (Green Diva Meg)
megan@thegreendivas.com'

(aka Megan McWilliams) is a green living expert and media personality as the producer and host of the Green Divas Radio Show. She has been sharing low-stress ways of living a deeper shade of green for over 20 years. She also produces podcasts and videos for the Green Divas and other clients through the Green Diva Studio.

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6 Comments

  1. Stuart21@mac.com'
    Stuart October 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm -  Reply

    Meg, Anna – give us some information.
    What are the ppm levels of arsenic in the rice?
    How much rice would one have to eat to be negatively affected?
    So much stuff on the internet screaming ‘don’t …..’ but few facts behind the blogs. Or few stated – maybe because they don’t add up.
    Stuart.

  2. info@green-talk.com'
    Anna@Green Talk October 14, 2012 at 10:20 pm -  Reply

    Stuart,
    I wish I could tell you an exact amount of ppb for rice. It is hard to put an exact figure on how many ppb of arsenic is in rice. Much depends on where the rice is grown and whether arsenic laden fertilizer was used. Certain parts of the country have higher levels of inorganic arsenic due to past pesticide treatment. As I mentioned above, Consumer Reports tested 200 different rice and products containing rice. Varying degrees of arsenic were found in different products. See http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/arsenic1112.htm#chart. (They also provide their detailed finding in a PDF that you can also read.)

    Consumer Reports provided a chart on how many servings of commonly eaten rice products are safe to consume. (Same link as above.) They provided these guidelines so everyone can easily limit their intake without having to calculate arsenic ppb.

    In defense of many blogs out there, no one knows the long term effect of low levels of arsenic exposure in food. They have only done studies on long term low level arsenic exposure in water as I noted above. However, inorganic arsenic has been associated with cancer. So, as a precaution given the nature of arsenic, Consumer Reports is suggesting caution and varying your diet. As mentioned above, Consumer Reports is the latest study in a long line of scientific studies which have red flagged arsenic in rice.

    I hope this answered your question. Feel free to click on all the links in my article above for further information. Anna

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