Several of our customers have written to express concern about arsenic content in rice and rice products. As you may be aware, arsenic is a heavy metal and one of many elements commonly found in today's air, water and soil. We know that rice and many other plants will take up a small amount of arsenic that is dissolved in the groundwater that supports their growth. Common sense tells us that it’s not good to consume arsenic, although we have yet to see definitive FDA or medical guidance to know what levels cause health problems. For years we have all assumed that rice is a wonderful food -- an important part of a healthy diet. Has that suddenly changed?
In a way... yes. Due to recent investigations by Consumer Reports Magazine, many of us (including you, we and the FDA), are now placing higher priority on arsenic monitoring and reduction, while seeking to better understand the health effect of arsenic at its very low levels in food.
In another way... no. At least half of the world's population consumes rice as a dietary staple and many of these are among the healthiest people in the world! The same common sense that tells us it’s a bad idea to eat arsenic also asks: "How can they be so healthy if they are eating arsenic every day? Since arsenic is a carcinogen, why aren't we reading or hearing about a larger incidence of cancer in Asia and Latin America, where people of all ages eat rice with every meal?" Since rice consuming populations show no apparent sign of arsenic poisoning, maybe the risk is actually modest or perhaps even zero. Is it possible that numerous nutritional benefits of rice may outweigh any risk posed by its trace arsenic content?
In 2012, Consumer Reports tested many packaged rice products for arsenic levels, including Edward & Sons Brown Rice Snaps®, with results measured in parts per billion [1 part per billion is the equivalent of one drop of water in an Olympic size swimming pool]. Brown Rice Snaps were in the "less bad" group, meaning some rice products showed lower arsenic levels than ours, while more items showed higher levels. We also tested Brown Rice Snaps for arsenic at an independent lab. Results for Brown Rice Snaps ranged from 136 parts per billion to 165 parts per billion, similar or smaller numbers than all the rice cakes and crackers tested by Consumer Reports magazine. While new attention to this issue spurs reasonable concerns, we (and Consumer Reports) are not aware of any incident in which arsenic in rice or rice crackers has caused any health problems.
For more information, there are many web sites now addressing this topic. A few we can suggest as recommended reading are the Consumer Reports article: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/11/arsenic-in-your-food/index.htm, the Lundberg Family Farms web site: http://www.lundberg.com/Info/Arsenic.aspx and the USA rice council web site: http://www.arsenicfacts.usarice.com/arsenic-in-rice.html.
What can we do? Here at Edward & Sons we remain convinced that rice is a wonderful food and a great part of a balanced, healthy diet. While we are especially partial to whole grain organic brown rice, we also enjoy working with a wide variety of rice species and blends. We are exploring with our rice purveyors and handlers whether we might devise processing steps that could reduce the arsenic content of the grain. We are also investigating whether rice from any region or any particular species may have demonstrably lower levels of arsenic, but we have yet to confirm one. Please check back with us on this page for further updates. And thanks again for asking.