Lead in rice? Not so much

Expert on clean rice sourcing sets the record straight about recent findings of heavy metals in imported rice.

On April 11, 2013, Dr. Tsananagurayi Tongesayi of Monmouth University presented a study at the American Chemical Society announcing that “rice from Asia, Europe and South America had 20 to 60 times higher toxic levels of lead than is allowed by the Food and Drug Administration.” The news caused an international uproar, as breaking news outlets from the BBC to TIME magazine issued reports on these new findings. On April 19, Dr. Tongesayi admitted he was having an “issue” with his measuring instruments resulting in “conflicting results” and the “recall of (his) accepted paper.” Consumers only know about the scare, but the public remains unaware of the flawed nature of the study. World rice expert David Janow sets the record straight to quell consumers’ fears about rice in their diet.

Since 2002, David Janow, CEO of Axiom Foods, has set the standards for rice processing. Not only has he been a sought after expert by the FDA, he has also created standards for the USDA and is a founding member of the World Rice Alliance to provide the food industry with clean sources of rice in the world. He notes that the scare about lead in rice has been sensationalized and provides some facts in an effort to put consumers’ minds to rest:

  • Rice and other fruits, vegetables and grains are translocators grown in water that soak up whatever is in the environment whether naturally occurring or due to pollution. Manufacturers have always been required to test their products, especially if they want to be sold in California under Proposition 65’s strict guidelines.
  • There are areas in “Asia, Europe and South America” where industrial contamination has affected the soil and everything that grows from it can be infested with pollution like lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. The Hunan Province of China, where a large amount of rice is grown, is also extremely polluted. However, China is a 3.7 million square mile country with rice fields all over the map—far away from polluted areas—there are more unpolluted than polluted areas.
  • Food companies know that arsenic and lead are an inherent challenge with rice and other translocator foods are extremely careful to source from the most pristine parts of the world and to change sources if arsenic and lead tests start running higher. They also work on technology to remove additional arsenic and lead. For information on sourcing cleaner rice and rice products, rely on information from the World Rice Alliance.
  • Most rice ingredients, such as protein, milk and sugars are extracted with a highly noxious gasoline product called “hexane”. Natural enzyme methods, which have been around since 2005, are used by some companies; look for them when buying food products.
  • In 2012 when a Dartmouth study demonized arsenic in rice, what wasn’t exposed was that there is both inorganic and organic arsenic, the latter of which is a naturally occurring heavy metal in both the soil and our bodies, posing no known health risk. The study also measured levels in finished products which doesn’t account for which ingredient contributed how much of the arsenic.

“The absorption of heavy metals like lead has always been a challenge in rice growing, but attention goes to disasters instead of good technology. So while there are polluted places in the world where rice fields exist, there are standards and technologies to ensure excellent finished products. We recently created one of those technologies that ensures 50 to 70 percent of heavy metal residue can be removed. We use it for our products and it is used to benefit products such as Nutribiotic and Growing Naturals rice protein, among others. And let’s not forget that when a study comes out making a blanket statement about not trusting “rice from Asia,” this is the world’s largest continent that makes up 8.7 percent of the earth’s surface. China is a 3.7 million-square-mile country and some of the world’s best rice comes from pristine parts of that country. To say that rice from an entire continent is bad is not responsible science.”

Janow further explains that studies can be very relative. In the case of the study by Dr. Tsananagurayi Tongesayi, Janow’s team spoke directly with Dr. Tongesayi who said:

  • The rice in the study was sourced from “New Jersey grocery stores.”
  • The researchers did not identify or disclose where exactly in “Asia, Europe and South America” the contaminated rice originated.
  • “The results from one of the places we had sent our samples just came in and all levels are less that 1 ppm using a different method even though XRF results from another lab still gave high values in the ppm range. I will be raising the issue of the XRF instrument with the supplier of the instrument, Innov-x-systems. I have been talking to their technical guys and they were assuring me that everything was okay. It is not the first time that XRF instrument was used for analysis of heavy metals in food with levels of metals reported at levels less than 5ppm. Because of the conflicting results, I will be recalling our accepted paper.”

Janow provides this advice for consumers: “We are what we eat, so I always say, take responsibility for the food you buy and ingest. Read labels. Stay informed.”



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