Could there be lead in British rice?


rice grains

A report, presented to the American Chemical Society, revealed potentially dangerous levels of lead in some of the rice on sale in the US. The society concluded that children who ate large quantities of this specific rice could be at risk.

So how could dangerous rice be on sale in the US, and could it be on sale in the UK too?

The report

The report took samples of imported rice on sale in the US (which accounts for 7% of rice consumed in America), and tested it for levels of lead. It then calculated how much lead specific sections of society would be ingesting if they ate this imported rice.

Lead is a particular worry, because it can affect the central nervous system, and can cause developmental problems in young children.

The researchers concluded that those eating imported rice could be exposed to higher levels of lead than is considered to be safe by the US Food and Drug Administration (known as the PTTI level).

The PTTI is set so that people can take ten times as much as the limit before they are at risk. However, Dr Tsanangurayi Tongesayi of Monmouth University in New Jersey, US, warned that the levels children would be exposed to if they ate a typical amount of rice (and specifically ate imported rice) were over ten times the limit.

He said: "For infants and children, the daily exposure levels from eating the rice products analyzed in this study would be 30-60 times higher than the FDA's provisional total tolerable intake (PTTI) levels. Asians consume more rice, and for these infants and children, exposures would be 60-120 times higher. For adults, the daily exposure levels were 20-40 times higher than the PTTI levels."

What does it mean for us?

It is worth emphasising that the report cannot be taken to mean that anyone anywhere is actually being exposed to unsafe levels of lead unless they are consuming large amounts of this specific rice.

The authorities in the UK will now look into the report in order to update its advice on rice consumption. It will take into consideration how much rice is typically consumed from these specific sources, and calculate whether tolerable levels are being exceeded in the UK. It's vital that we do not over-react before they release their advice.

However, it is always concerning to hear about potential risks in food. There are already concerns over the levels of other chemicals in rice. Because it is grown in water, which is heavily irrigated, it makes it much more susceptible to environmental pollutants. The concern is what is being used to irrigate the crops.

Back in 2009, the Food Standards Agency in the UK warned about potentially harmful levels of inorganic arsenic in rice, which led it to recommend that young children and toddlers should not be given rice milk as a replacement for milk or water. It said: "A daily half pint or 280 millilitres of rice drink could double the amount of the more harmful form of arsenic they consume each day."

The row over horse meat showed that having a global market for food opens up new risks, this report reveals that the global market for rice - with no internationally agreed growing standards - could expose us to another risk.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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