Rice not so nice

Arsenic, again

September 24, 2012

Earlier this year, arsenic turned up in rice. Now Consumer Reports has conducted one of its comprehensive studies, testing a wide variety of rice products, and concluded that, indeed, we're eating too much arsenic in our rice.

What’s the story? As Tom Philpott noted on Mother Jones, arsenic is prevalent in our environment thanks to now-discontinued (but still persistent) pesticides as well as from factory-farmed chickens fed arsenic for health (it kills bugs) and beauty (it makes their flesh pinker). The arsenic works its way into our soil and water, partly thanks to the common rice-farming practice of using chicken litter as fertilizer. And then it’s efficiently taken up by rice, a crop grown directly in water.

On Grist, Twilight Greenaway explained the situation in similar terms, and pointed out helpful charts from Consumer Reports detailing both the study's findings and tips for how to avoid eating arsenic-laced rice.

Rice producers such as the certified-organic Lundberg Family Farms are addressing the issue on their websites. And the FDA has released its own take on the matter, too.

For consumers, the short story is: Rice grown in the U.S. has higher levels of arsenic than rice grown elsewhere. Rice grown in the American South has higher levels of arsenic than rice grown in California.

And on the stovetop, try cooking your rinsed rice with a much greater proportion of water — such as 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice — and then draining the excess. According to Consumer Reports, the rinsing and extra water remove about 30 percent of the rice’s inorganic arsenic.

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