In 2012 the consumer group Consumer Reports released a study that shows that rice contains arsenic. They recently updated their report and as it turns out, yes, there is arsenic in rice, but it may not be as serious as one might think.
I’m particularly interested in this issue because, Before a mid-life career change, I worked over 20 years as an industrial hygienist, and helped write a textbook about it. It’s a fascinating field that studies the health effects of chemicals.
One of the things I learned is, the dose makes the poison. Most – but not all – chemicals have a no-effect level. Water is a good example. We can drink it, we can swim in it, and all of that is below its no effect level. But if there’s so much of it we can’t get out of it, we risk being drowned. We’ve exceeded a safe exposure level.
Well, the principal is the same but arsenic is not nearly so simple. We have two kinds of arsenic – organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic is bound to a carbon molecule, and it is a strong bond. Since it is bound, small amounts can pass through the body with no effect. But Inorganic arsenic can do severe damage, if the dose is high enough. It is a carcinogen so there is no safe exposure level.
Arsenic occurs naturally in water and soil, and rice is particularly good at absorbing it, better than the other grains. This is why you could grow wheat in the same field and not find arsenic in the final product. Consumer Reports tested 128 kinds of rice, and found that levels are lower in California grown Basmati and Sushi, and it is mostly organic arsenic. This is also true of rice grown in India and Pakistan. But the rice grown in Texas and Arkansas has higher levels and more of it is inorganic arsenic.
So what does this all mean?
Well, I’m not going to quit eating rice. I am going to eat rice from California. Consumer Reports did the math and figured out that adults can eat 4.5 servings of California Basmati or Sushi a week without increasing their lifetime cancer risk. They suggest that children be limited to 1 serving a week.
For more information, you can read the Consumer Reports study online at consumerreports.org,
Previously published on The Western View by AgNet West.