How Safe is Rice?

There was a short news item that appeared a couple of weeks ago about higher than normal arsenic levels in rice. Concurrently, an article appeared by the Associated Press that South Korea Suspends Bidding for US Rice Imports because of a report that the FDA and Consumer Reports Magazine found elevated levels of arsenic in rice.

There are just some kinds of contaminants it is worth avoiding and arsenic is one of them. It is not much consolation to me that the FDA stated “there was no evidence that arsenic levels in rice were unsafe.” Our protective agencies make claims like that too often. Then, the damage is done.

In a much earlier post, I discovered that it is becoming more common to find higher concentrations of arsenic from wells that go deeper into the groundwater because of falling water tables. And, yes, “arsenic is naturally present in water, air, food and soil.”

What has become a red flag for me is the convergence of several factors.

  1. Groundwater tables have continued to fall around the world. Because India is so heavily reliant on irrigation from wells (millions have been dug since the 60s from lack of natural moisture), higher levels of arsenic are now appearing in drinking water.
  2. As climate begins to warm, rainfall patterns will also continue to be disrupted. Areas that have been successfully growing food with water provided from rainfall will be increasingly dependent on wells for irrigation. As too much water is withdrawn for irrigation, we can expect to see an increasingly negative impact from damage/depletion of aquifers around the world to compensate for changing rainfall patterns.
  3. Today the damage may be aligned to rice. What about other crops should farmers need to compensate for irregular and insufficient rainfall.

Yet, if the arsenic problem was restricted just to ever-deeper wells, we might be able to legislate our way to important compromises – just as we are effectively demonstrating our ability to do this today! I know, you know, I am joking.

From my earlier post: Would You Like that with Arsenic or Sulfur/Nitrogen/Mercury, the evidence was strong that arsenic contributions are only growing.

Arsenic is found in all segment of the environment. Its respective compounds (considered as highly toxic substances) are waste by-products of pesticides, dyes and certain other chemical industries, as well as of glassware production – contaminating the wastewaters produced.’

‘Water pollution from these processes is a major, global problem. It has been suggested that it is the leading worldwide cause of deaths and diseases, and that it accounts for the deaths of more than 14,000 people daily.’

‘Pollution of water is increasing steadily due to rapid population growth, industrial exploitation, urbanizations, increasing living standards and wide spheres of human activities. Time is, perhaps not too far when pure and clean water, particularly in densely populated, industrialized water scarce areas may be inadequate for maintaining the normal living standards. Groundwater contamination is generally irreversible i.e. once it is contaminated; it is difficult to restore the original water quality of the aquifer.’”

As we struggle to find a way to become less dependent on fossil fuel for our growing energy needs, we have become even more dependent on the world’s abundant supply of coal. And that poses another problem.

“Arsenic is found in the coal ash ponds that are the by-product of the power being produced by coal.”

We struggle to find ways to not eat the rice that may or may not contain unsafe levels of arsenic. The challenges only worsen for the numerous other sources of arsenic contamination in our environment.

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