Does Rice Contain Dangerous Levels Of Arsenic? BBC Takes A Closer Look


Rice consumption is rising. It is a staple food for nearly half of world's population bringing the issue of food security to the fore as population continues to grow.

The issue has even gone beyond food security: Is eating rice secure?

Questions of concern are popping up after Dr Michael Mosley of BBC's Trust Me, I'm A Doctor looked into the issue if the arsenic quantities in rice is safe.

UK's fast-changing demographics and preference for fiber-based diets led to more rice consumption with a total of 150,000 metric tons in 2015. The U.S. rice consumption in the same year averaged at 4.16 million metric tons.

Most of the world's rice, estimated at 90 percent, is consumed in Asia where some 560 million people lived in hunger.

When reports came up that rice contain dangerous levels of arsenic, should people worry about it?

Arsenic Is Everywhere

Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical element with an (As) symbol and an atomic number of 33. It is found in organic and inorganic compounds.

Inorganic arsenic compound is found in soil, sediments, and water.

Arsenic poisoning occurs only when consumed in large dose with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Classified as category 1 carcinogen by the EU, it is everywhere.

All plants acquire it from soil. Because rice is grown in flooded condition, the arsenic in the soil is locked and readily absorbed in higher level unlike any other cereals, Dr Mosley explained.

Arsenic in rice is 10 to 20 percent higher than any other cereal crops. This makes the report for most of the rice-eating population worrisome.

How Much Carcinogen Is Tolerable

Experts weighed in their opinion on how much level of carcinogen in the rice tolerable.

UN's Food and Agriculture Organization set the limit for polished, based on a study for safety and fair trade, at 0.2 mg/kg for inorganic arsenic. The safety level for husked rice has not been set yet, which has also been discovered to be more arsenic than polished rice.

The Food Standards Agency, on the other hand, came up with an advice for children below 5 years old should not be given with rice milk as substitute for breast milk.

Still, the question of how much rice should be allowed to be eaten is burning.

Experts agree that it is quite tricky to answer the question because other food products also contain arsenic and doing away with rice is not a wise decision.

This is particularly worrisome among children. Even low level of arsenic has its impact on the development of immune system, growth, and IQ, said Queen's University in Belfast Dr Andy Meharg.

Meharg have also suggested some steps on how to reduce the arsenic level in cooking rice. The best technique is to soak the rice overnight and cook it with five parts of water to one part of rice. Cooking it this way, the arsenic level is reduced by 80 percent.

It is still good to eat rice. People have only to learn cooking it the new way.

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