There has been a lot of talk over the last few years about arsenic in our food system. From apple juice to chicken parts (because it is fed to chickens) and more recently rice, there seems to be a new cause for concern or disgust each week.
Surprisingly, just days ago the FDA announced that they consider the level of arsenic found in rice and rice products of no concern… for now:
“In tests for arsenic in more than 1,300 samples of rice and rice products, the Food and Drug Administration has found levels vary but overall are far too low to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects.” – USA Today
Notably, they make no mention of long-term effects, as they are still studying them, but for now they are attempting to ease the public’s concern over eating rice. They stated that the highest levels of arsenic are found in brown rice and the lowest in rice wine (basically most nutritious to least.) They recommend varying the type of grains you eat just to be careful.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop eating brown rice altogether though, as there are a number of ways to reduce the levels of arsenic in your rice (rinsing, soaking, boiling in larger quantities of water, etc.). And nutritionally, you get the best bang for your buck with brown rice (as opposed to white rice). Check out these tips: Rice
Arsenic levels also vary from region to region:
“Arsenic occurs naturally in soil worldwide. Most crops don’t take it up. However, rice is grown in flooded fields. That changes the soil chemistry, releasing arsenic locked up in soil minerals so it can be taken up by the rice’s roots. The amount of arsenic in rice varies by local conditions. In the USA, California rice has lower arsenic levels than rice from Texas and Arkansas.” – USA Today
Dr. Michael Greger or Nutritionfacts.org suggested in 2009 avoiding rice grown abroad (see the embedded video above) as it is often grown in flooded fields. He has also suggested that part of the reason rice grown in Texas and Arkansas may have higher levels of arsenic (compared to other parts of the US) is because of the poultry farming done in those states.
Next: Find out why poultry farming in linked to arsenic in rice!
” … researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found levels of arsenic in chicken feather meal up to 100 times that found in apple juice by Dr. Oz last year and 10 times that just found in rice. Feather meal is made from the billion pounds of feathers plucked from chicken carcasses annually (sometimes with heads, guts, manure, and feet thrown in to increase protein and mineral content) and is fed to farmed fish, pigs, poultry, and cattle as well as used to fertilize both conventional and organic crops. Chicken manure is also used directly as feed and fertilizer and has been found to significantly increase arsenic levels in the soil.“ - How Much Arsenic In Rice Came From Chickens? Nutritionfacts.org (bolding mine)
It appears that rice is not the issue, but the way it is grown and fertilized may be. The solution in the long run seems to demand a new sustainable way of growing rice that does not leach arsenic from the soil, and one where our rice crops are not fertilized with waste from an industry that is callous enough to deliberately feed arsenic to the animals they are raising.
What is happening with our agricultural food system is just one example of how we choose to turn a blind eye to the environmental destruction and cruelty inherent in so much of what we choose to put on our plates.