September 20, 2012 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the release of preliminary data to determine the presence of arsenic in rice and rice products. This news has generated concern within the celiac and gluten-intolerant communities as rice is the most common grain used in gluten-free products and individuals following a gluten-free diet are likely to consume more rice-based products than the average American.
Last year, Consumer Reports (CR) tested rice and rice based products and found measurable amounts of both inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, as well as organic arsenic, less toxic but still of concern, in those samples. This information lead the FDA to undertake its own study sampling significantly more products, and to share the early findings. While arsenic is found in foods throughout the food chain, in their natural state, or when processed into other products, it is not known where the threshold of safety ends and harm begins. Rice from China contains arsenic and lead well above the allowable limits because agricultural land and water (which is used to flood rice patty fields to grow rice) in China is so heavily polluted due to decades of chemical agriculture and air pollution from extensive use of burning coal without government health considerations whatsoever. About 90% of rice imports come from China and other heavily polluted countries in Asia. Only about 10% of the rice found in U.S stores comes from U.S sources. Lundberg Farms is one of the most well-known and notable rice operations in California. Their rice can be purchased in most health food stores.
Though rice isn’t the only dietary source of arsenic—some vegetables, fruits, and even water can harbor it—the Environmental Protection Agency assumes there is actually no “safe” level of exposure to inorganic arsenic.
No federal limit exists for arsenic in most foods, but the standard for drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb). Keep in mind: That level is twice the 5 ppb that the EPA originally proposed and that New Jersey actually established. Using the 5-ppb standard in a recent study, it was found that a single serving of some rices could give an average adult almost one and a half times the inorganic arsenic he or she would get from a whole day’s consumption of water, about 1 liter.
Also discovered is that some infant rice cereals, which are often a baby’s first solid food, had levels of inorganic arsenic at least five times more than has been found in alternatives such as oatmeal. The EPA and Consumer Reports suggest limiting the consumption of rice products from China.
How does the rice grown in the US compare?
Rice grown in California and some parts of the Southern U.S is significantly lower in arsenic and lead, however, as our soils are also becoming more polluted with toxins every day, all of our agricultural crops will soon be no better than what is coming from China. Buying Canadian rice products is probably your best bet until we wise-up about polluting our soils and water. The healthiest choice for rice right now is Canadian grown wild rice.