Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Arsenic in Rice

by megann, Posted originally at Future Science Leaders Researchers 2012.

“Cool” may be questionable but interesting undoubtedly describes the new Consumer Reports report on the arsenic levels in rice.    Rice is being scrutinized and its nutritional values are being debated in combination with new studies that show that there are unsafe levels of arsenic in this dietary staple.  Arsenic, a known carcinogen (capable of causing cancer), is like a celebrity when it comes to media attention.  We have been cognisant of the levels of arsenic in our water for years and who could forget the supposed arsenic life forms supported by NASA?  Furthermore, it has recently come to our attention that rice as well as some juices contains shocking levels of arsenic which need to be properly monitored.
Rice is grown submerged in water, which means that as it grows it soaks up the arsenic from the ground.   Once it is in soil, arsenic can remain for years.  This means that if farmers ever used arsenic based fertilizer or pesticide, their food could be contaminated for years.  Or in the case of many US rice producing states like Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, where many fields were previously used for cotton, the arsenic is still present in the soil even though there is a different crop now being grown.
The level allowed for arsenic in drinking water, in the strictest state in the US, New Jersey, is five parts per billion.  In other states and Canada, this level is 10 ppb .  Many tests have showed that the arsenic in rice exceed 5 ppb, brown rice even more than white because brown rice keeps its shell.   It’s scary to learn that some organic brands of rice crackers, infant rice baby cereals, brown rice and white rice tested above the level of 5 ppb.  Although there is no standard for rice set right now, if we shouldn’t be drinking this level of arsenic in water, we surely should not be eating it either!
Consumer Reports has declared their report as final and suggests that consumers should limit their rice intake.  For many members of society, this could prove to be a very difficult mission.  For some cultures, rice is the main part of their daily meal and has been for centuries.  It is inexpensive and readily available.  Rice crackers have been marketed as a better, lower calorie snacking choice.   For people with gluten allergies, rice is one of their only options on their restricted diet.   Brown rice has been known as a healthy choice!  Furthermore, it will be interesting to see the affects of this study on the rice market!
So is rice really dangerous or has the media spun it into a larger controversy than really needed?  When I first heard the news, I wasn’t shocked or really phased at all.  I didn’t begin to compile a list of things I should stop eating or throw out of my pantry.   I do not doubt the validity of the Consumer Reports report but I will be waiting for more studies and scientific replies before I make any drastic changes to my diet!  Personally, I’m not always as trusting of the media as others may be.  I’ve learned that a good scientist questions everything, so I’ll be keeping my final judgements until I learn more!
For media’s spin, check out this video:

About this contributor: I’m a 17 year old health nut from Vancouver, BC. I love running, volunteering, leadership, and of course, science! I hope to one day go into a career in medicine. 

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