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Arsenic in Rice – What You Can Do About It

Submitted by on Monday, 22 March 2010One Comment

By Dorian Yates, author of Green Earth Guide, Traveling Naturally in France, and Traveling Naturally in Spain.

Rice has always been a popular staple of U.S. and foreign diets, but its use has increased as the ever-growing number of people with gluten allergies have sought options to wheat and other grains. In addition to whole grain rice, rice products include rice milk, and rice flour, used in most gluten-free products from bread and baking mixes to pasta. This means that gluten sensitive and celiac sufferers are consuming a lot of rice.

The boon in gluten-free, rice-based products is wonderful for those of us seeking decent tasting alternatives to prevalent and abundant wheat products. But here is the rub – recent reports show that rice grown in Asia and the southern United States have high levels of arsenic. A study in the UK found that rice milk had up to three times the arsenic allowed by the U.S. and E.U. for acceptable levels in drinking water.

Arsenic, a known toxin, used to poison and kill people in ancient times, and made famous for its noxious effects in the movie Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant, is a heavy metal which accumulates in the soil and in human bodies, and can cause cancer, diabetes and other diseases.

Arsenic compounds have been used in agriculture as pesticides and herbicides as well as in animal feed. In the Southern United States, arsenic based pesticides were used on cotton crops for decades, persisting in the soil, even when no longer used. And now, there are a large number of former cotton fields that grow rice, so the arsenic used on the cotton is accumulating in rice.

Many countries in Asia use large amounts of arsenic contaminated water in their rice patties instead of a safer, raised-bed system. The United Nations is working to increase the use of raised-bed rice farming in these areas to reduce arsenic levels.

What does this mean for the consumer? The best thing to do is to make sure the rice and rice products you are eating are certified organic. And to be on the safe side, not grown in former cotton fields or with arsenic contaminated water. The following brands sell organic rice products, but remember to read the labels as many brands sell some products that are organic and some that aren’t.

Products using organic rice:
Lundberg Rice, California grown rice, either certified organic or “eco-farmed” – www.lundberg.com

Arrowhead Mills, based in Texas, uses organic rice flour in their All Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Mix – www.arrowheadmills.com

Shiloh Farms, based in Pennsylvania, sells organic rice flour – www.shilohfarms.net

Bob’s Red Mill makes a gluten-free All Purpose Baking Mix without any rice flour and they sell five gluten-free flours that are organic including Amaranth, Brown Rice, Quinoa, White Rice, and Coconut. www.bobsredmill.com

Tinkyada makes rice pasta with five organic options – www.tinkyada.com

Erewhon makes a gluten-free crispy rice cold cereal with organic rice and organic rice syrup – http://www.usmillsllc.com/usmills/search.php?brand=1

For more information about arsenic see the following:
• Arsenic can be found in water, rocks, wood preservatives, pesticides, and from mining activities – www.safe-drinking-water.org
• Arsenic information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – http://www.epa.gov/safewater/arsenic/basicinformation.html
• A common source is pressure-treated wood, also known as CCA (Chromated (Chromium) Copper Arsenate (Arsenic), has been recently banned by the EPA for residential use, but is still allowed for industrial & agricultural uses

According to studies, older decks and play-sets (seven to fifteen years old) made from pressure-treated wood expose people to just as much arsenic on the wood surface as newer structures (less than one year old).

The amount of arsenic that testers wiped off a small area of wood about the size of a four-year-old handprint (100 square centimeters) typically far exceeds what EPA allows in a glass of water under the Safe Drinking Water Act standard.

www.ewg.org – Environmental Working group for more information and arsenic test kits

Dorian Yates is the author and photographer for the Green Earth Guides-Traveling Naturally Books, Blog and Web and The Alternative Health Guides Web and Blog.

http://travelingnaturally.blogspot.com ~ a Lonely Planet Favorite!

By Annie B. Bond, the best-selling and award-winning author of five healthy/green living books, including Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Home Enlightenment, Clean & Green (1990), and most recently True Food (National Geographic, 2010 and winner of Gourmand Awards Best Health and Nutrition Cookbook in the World). She has authored literally thousands of articles and was named “the foremost expert on green living” by Body & Soul magazine (2009).

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  • Jdemotte says:

    Thank you for this list.  I still wonder, even with organic  practices currently, how are they monitoring arsenic levels from prior uses of the land?  Such as land that once grew cotton but now is a rice field.  Just an organic label would not give me confidence that the arsenic levels are safe.

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