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Oct 10, 2012 07:25 PM

Local Scoop on Arsenic in rice and other things...
I hate it when people misquote or scarequote scientists. Local papers stand a better chance of getting it right.
And if you really have good questions, ask the professors!

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  1. The initial quote in the article from the UPitts public health professor may be somewhat misleading. He said he doesn't agree with what Consumer's Union said, that we should avoid rice.
    I think what Consumer's Union has been saying is that rice should be eaten in moderation (same as what he is saying), with attention paid to where it was grown and how it is prepared (when cooking it at home); that public health authorities and the food industry should take steps to eliminate the use of high-arsenic pesticides and other products in the production of foods; and that standards should be established for safe levels of arsenic in rice products.

    2 Replies
    1. re: racer x

      hi-arsenic pesticides were used for cotton, not food. long time ago. short of declaring half the south a brownfield, it'd be hard to clean up.

      1. re: Chowrin

        Arsenic is entering the food chain through many agricultural practices still in use. The report links arsenic in our food supply not only to residual contamination but also arsenic containing drugs and feed given to livestock whose manure is used as fertilizer and enters the water table, and the ongoing use of a few arsenic contaminated fertilizers even today.

        As far as it being "hard to clean up", that's obvious, but hardly a good argument for apathy and inaction. Residual pesticide contamination has been proven to decline when a transition is made to sustainable agricultural practices.

    2. "Based on data and scientific literature available now, FDA is not recommending that consumers change the consumption of rice and rice products at this time, but that people eat a balanced diet containing a wide variety of grains."

      1. I get suspicious when it is one product being attacked like this because often it is a competing industry/farm lobby that is spinning it. Simply put, if the rice from half the land used for rice grown in the US is contaminated, then the drinking water in those areas are contaminated... which means people drinking/living in those areas would be the highest consumers of the arsenic contamination (whether natural or man-caused). If you are worried about the rice from those areas, buy your rice from Thailand.... which does not currently have the same problem.

        Simply put, if rice from those areas are contaminated, the whole food chain from those areas are contaminated and should fall under the same restrictions.

        6 Replies
        1. re: cacruden

          I take it you haven't actually read the original published report that all this news is based upon?

          There's quite a bit of detail as to why rice in particular is coming up with much higher numbers than other consumables but you are absolutely incorrect about the singular focus on rice. An entire array of food has been tested from the same areas, and many others are showing arsenic contamination, just not to the same degree as brown rice in particular because of it's unique growing conditions, methodology, and it's (relative lack of) processing. The "polishing" of white rice is why it's showing dramatically less dangerous levels than brown.

          In fact the report all of these news sources are citing doesn't even have "rice" in the title. It's called "Arsenic in your food: findings show a real need for federal standards for this toxin".

          It's just that brown rice tested so high that it has risen to the top of the news cycle as it's the most headline worthy thus far.

          I'm as skeptical as you when it comes to media scares and the way corporate warfare filters down to consumers as "news", but Consumer Union has a very high pedigree as a consumer advocacy non-profit.

          In fact, this report is just a continuation of the same researchers digging deeper after the earlier arsenic in apples report was published. So this is definitely not a corporate hit job targeting the rice industry.

          Lastly the statements about the inevitable contamination of drinking water in the areas of the contaminated rice has no basis whatsoever. Municipal drinking water isn't coming from sources where it is minimally filtered down through agribusiness farming soil! The exceptionally rare cases where farming grey water CAN connect with drinking water causes far greater illness than trace level arsenic toxicity and inevitably leads to millions made by lawyers in class action suits. :)

          1. re: NuMystic

            The spin recently is ALL about rice. Reporters these days are lazy and often misinformed, and rely heavily on what is sent them by lobbyists. Sometimes even doing there own reporting and then selling the reporting. I have seen 4 or 5 threads on rice - arsenic contamination and replacing rice - this is not likely a coincidence. Not do not eat American rice; food grown from contaminated lands..... Don't eat rice.

            A very large portion of drinking water is well or ground water..... if it weren't there would not be the outcry against franking contaminating drinking water. There would not be instances where contamination forced bottled water to be driven in. Arsenic is just one contaminant that could cause problems. If the land is contaminated, the water in the same area is contaminated.

            If you are afraid of American rice, eat Thai rice. I do... but then it is local. It is widely shipped though in 10lb bags at asian grocers, or you can get ripped off and buy it in small bags at your local supermarket.... So my spin is .... DON'T EAT AMERICAN RICE :o

            1. re: cacruden

              The hydrofracking comparison is entirely misinformed as the chemical process by which the contamination occurs is completely different. (gas seeping UP through the ground that has been hydrofracked near water sources)

              You're entitled to any position you like, but you're making leaps to support them that are not based in actual agricultural science. It's even more clear that you did not read the source report as there is a direct confirmed relationship between human subjects with elevated arsenic levels and the higher than average daily consumption of rice in particular (most notably amongst asians and hispanics). Meanwhile there have been no reports of increased levels of arsenic from those simply living near american rice farms.

              Advising people to avoid rice or eat it in greater moderation may well be prudent, but If you're going to present information beyond the scope of what is covered in the actual reports being discussed, kindly post actual citations and studies to back it up rather than pure conjecture.

              1. re: NuMystic

                Gas seeping up through the ground to water resources (well water), water seeping through the ground down - sorry but I don't see the difference.... they both move through the ground.... unless there is a magical water barrier I don't know about. Rice has to get the contamination from somewhere.

                Bangladesh has a big problem with naturally occurring Arsenic leaching into ground water.... so it must be water soluble.

                I have no problem avoiding American rice, they can recommend that all they want... but the same situation does not exist here (rice is not grown on old cotton fields).

                1. re: cacruden

                  There is an enormous difference which even a bit of Googling will help clarify for you as this is well beyond the scope of the thread.

                  As for the "somewhere" the arsenic is coming from it is from residual arsenic in the soil from decades of arsenic based pesticides (banned now thankfully), the continued use of arsenic based pharmaceuticals and arsenic laden feed given to livestock whose manure is used in the farming, and arsenic in fertilizers that are still in use today.

                  The Bangladesh problem is entirely different as this report is focusing on INORGANIC arsenic which is a far greater danger than organic arsenic and is an entirely manmade problem.

                  I never once suggested anything about the solubility as that is entirely irrelevant when water is not the source of the US rice contamination, and water contamination surrounding rice farming areas has also not been a problem.

                  Please stop spinning out these misinformed correlations without even being familiar with the research and report in question. It adds nothing, and only further leads the conversation away from relevant concerns.

          2. re: cacruden

            Cacruden, I think your skepticism is misplaced, as you say, "often it is a competing industry/farm lobby that is spinning it." It's not in the food or agricultural industries' interest to raise the specter of toxicity with any food, their own or a competitor's.

            The far greater threat would be that those industries could pressure regulators to downplay, ignore, or hide evidence of a problem. This could range from bribing inspectors or scientists to falsify data to lobbying legislators and regulatory administrators to weaken or eliminate rules restricting permissible levels.

            As NuMystic points out, rice is not the only food that has been implicated. It's just one of the food products that has started to be looked at. Apple juice and grape juice were also examined. Chicken has been yet another food that poses concern. We don't know how extensive the problems may be with these and other foods because this issue has not been thoroughly examined.