Arsenic in American rice no problem for Aussies

Kimberly Gillan
Thursday, September 20, 2012

A major US consumer magazine has advised Americans to limit their rice consumption, suggesting it could increase arsenic levels in the body.

The Consumer Reports magazine suggested eating rice products once a day could increase arsenic levels in the body by 44 percent, and recommended people "moderate their consumption".

Aussies need not worry though, according to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), production and regulations here mean we are far less likely to find harmful arsenic levels in our rice.

"Australian consumers should not be concerned about the reports from the US describing results of monitoring of arsenic levels in rice," a spokeswoman told ninemsn.

"Arsenic occurs both naturally in water, air, food and soil or due to contamination from human activity. It has a scary reputation because most people believe it's deadly even in tiny amounts, but the reality is the amounts we are naturally exposed to in our diet are no cause for concern at the current low levels for those people consuming a varied diet over the long term."

Australian rice farmers also use rotational rather than intensive farming practices, according to the Ricegrowers Association of Australia, which means a lower concentration of chemicals in the soil.

"If you look at the statistics on rice consumption in US from the article published, most of their rice comes from California and Southern States," the FSANZ spokeswoman said.

"Past use of agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines that contained arsenic and use of fertilisers that contain arsenic may have contaminated the growing areas in those US states.

"Rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more effectively than most plants."

Consumer Reports tested more than 200 samples of rice products and found arsenic was higher in brown rice than white because it absorbed into the outer layers of the grain.

It also detailed that while organic arsenic is less toxic than its manmade equivalent, it could still be harmful in high doses.

FSANZ is continuing to monitor arsenic in Australian rice through the Australian Total Diet Study, due to be released next year.

Consumer advice from the US Consumer Reports for people concerned about arsenic consumption:

• Rinse raw rice thoroughly before cooking and use a ratio of six cups water to one cup rice for cooking (draining the excess water afterward). Polished rice is lower in arsenic since the polishing step removes the very outer layers of the rice where it accumulates. Research has shown this can reduce arsenic levels.

• Experiment with other grains. Though not arsenic-free, other studies have shown wheat and oats tend to have lower levels than rice.

• Eat a varied diet to help minimise risk of exposure.

• Keep in mind that some vegetables can accumulate arsenic when grown in contaminated soil. To help, clean vegetables thoroughly, especially potato skins.

• Limit the consumption of other high-arsenic food. Some fruit juices such as apple and grape juice can be high in arsenic, as previous Consumer Reports tests showed.

Author: Philippa Lees,
Approving editor: Rory Kinsella.

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