First it was apple juice. Then it was rice. Then it was the organic brown rice syrup found as a sweetener in everything from cereal bars to infant formula. It's arsenic, and it seems to be popping up everywhere we don't want it to be.
Blogger Anna Hackman of Green Talk was particularly appalled to learn that she was was harming her family every time she fed them rice. She was even more appalled to learn that a study revealing the problem of arsenic exposure from rice consumption had been around since 2007, and yet still no action has been taken.
So the veteran blogger has taken it upon herself to force a change. She started a petition on Change.org asking the FDA, the European Union (EU), and the rice industry to set limits on safe levels of arsenic in rice. Here's what she had to say about the issue, her petition, and how to safely eat rice.
MNN: What brought your attention to this issue?
Anna Hackman: I read about the Dartmouth study that revealed the organic brown rice syrup arsenic issue. As I started to dig I found Dr. Andrew Meharg's study and interview. His team did a study in 2007. From his study, the research just snow balled. Both Dr. Meharg, a prominent arsenic expert and author, and professor J.M. Duxbury of Cornell University helped me with all my questions. I credited them for helping to develop the articles. You know me. I have a lot of questions.
I was so upset at the fact that Dr. Meharg's study was done in 2007 which showed the connection of arsenic and rice. Nothing has changed. No guidelines. Nothing.
In his study, the team identified the population most at risk which was children under 5, people who eat rice as a staple in their diet, and gluten-free people.
There is man-made arsenic and arsenic found in the soil. Man-made is from water contamination, pesticides, and other factors. In this incident, it is coming from old pesticide residue. Certain areas have more natural arsenic due to where they are located. Most the rice is grown in the South, hence the pesticides from old cotton fields. In the case of organic brown rice syrup, it is just more concentrated. Rice is grown in water so it sucks up the arsenic, natural or man-made.
What do you hope to accomplish with this petition? Do you have a specific arsenic limit in mind or do you just want to raise awareness and prompt more studies looking into this issue?
What do I want done? I am not a scientist. My thoughts are that the limit should be no more than what the EPA standards are for drinking water; however, I don't know if eating food that contains arsenic versus drinking water with arsenic has the same effects.
Also, I am not a farmer but a backyard gardener. Both professors indicated that if farming methods were changed, the plants wouldn't uptake as much arsenic. Right now, the rice plants are flooded.
I do want to see more testing done, but if both professors are right about the farming methods, I think this seems to be the easiest way to go. Who knows how each body metabolizes arsenic, natural or man-made?
Is there a safe rice option currently available for those who don't want arsenic in their rice?
Both professors gave me a bunch of ideas on eating rice safely such as switching to basmati rice imported from India and Pakistan and jasmine rice from Thailand. Meharg said choose California rice over southern rice or source it from Egypt or the Himalayas. As for rice itself, a U.K. study said wash the rice for three minutes then cook it 6:1 (water to rice.) I would limit products that use organic brown rice syrup as a primary ingredients until we know more.
Are you concerned about the amount of arsenic your family is consuming each day through rice? Go add your name to Anna's petition and let's join together to ask for safe and healthy rice.