Arsenic and Rice. A Deadly Combination


This is a guest blog post by Anna Hackman

Arsenic in rice is back in the news again. The latest report is from  Consumer Reports’ study that 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 is 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, M.D., chief of the environmental cancer program at Karmanos Institute in Detroit, he suspects “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 arsenic in rice petition and thanks everyone who signs and gets the word out about the petition.  She is also 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.

  • Anna @GreenTalk

    Thank you so much for posting my article and for your wonderful site.

    • Fooducate

      Thank YOU Anna for your efforts!

  • Tracy

    I am SO confused. Is this for like instant rice or something? I only eat rice from Thailand that you always have to wash and that you cook in a 2 cup water to 1 cup rice ratio. Is arsenic only in American rice?

  • minka

    thank you so much Fooducate,love,love you site and i use, all the time..thax

  • malachite2

    The USDA actually developed more As-resistant strains of rice (in the 50′s & 60′s) to assist rice farmers because in general, rice doesn’t grow well in As-rich soils. So the USDA has long been aware of the high concentrations of As in some of the regions that rice is now grown.

    I’ve read that Japan will not buy rice from the US because of the relatively high levels of As in some US rice (not all of it). The Lundberg family has been working to try to reduce As levels (Lundberg sells some varieties of organically grown rice & rice products, like rice cakes).

    Buying organically grown rice from other nations may help people avoid arsenic too. Will increase your “carbon footprint” though.

  • Angela

    I eat allot of Gluten free food due to wheat allergy. I got a huge shock when I saw that most of them cobtain rice flour. My diet is already so restricted. Now what do I eat?