Worrisome Levels of Lead Found In Imported Rice

  • Share
  • Read Later
Richard Jung / Getty Images

An analysis of imported brands found surprising levels of the metal.

Reporting at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, a group of researchers lead by Tsanangurayi Tongesayi, an associate professor of chemistry at Monmouth University in New Jersey announced the results of their analysis of rice from Asia, Europe and South America. The imports, which currently make up about 7% of rice consumed in America, contained higher than acceptable levels of lead.

The levels ranged from six milligrams/kilogram to 12 milligrams/kilogram; factoring in average consumption, that added up to estimated lead exposure levels 30 to 60 times greater than the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) provisional total tolerable intake (PTTI) levels for children and 20-40 times greater than the standard exposure levels for adults.

(MORE: Arsenic and Old Rice: Should We Worry About a Toxic Chemical in a Popular Food?)

The agency’s PTTI represent the maximum level of contaminant exposure before potentially toxic or adverse health effects might occur. “Now, according to the FDA, for chemical toxicants to cause a health effect, they have to be ten times the PTTI. Our calculated exposure levels were two to 12 times higher than ten times the PTTI. Meaning, they can cause adverse health effects,” says Tongesayi.

Because Asian populations in the U.S. tend to consume the most rice, the researchers also calculated exposure levels for these groups, and estimated that  Asian infants and children in the U.S. could be exposed to lead at 60 to 120 times higher than the FDA’s PTTI. And young children under six years old can be especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can impair mental and physical development and, if the exposure is sustained, can be fatal.

“The thing is that is rice becoming a staple food for a larger percentage of the population,” says Tongesayi. He says their calculations are also conservative, since they were basing consumption on the daily recommended servings. It’s likely that many people consume more than what’s recommend in a given day– or week.

Rice from Taiwan and China contained the highest levels of lead, although rice from Italy, India, Thailand, Bhutan and the Czech Republic also contained levels higher than the PTTI. The researchers are continu8ing their sampling with rice from Pakistan and Brazil as well as other countries. With the increase in imports, Tongesayi says rice from these countries are not only appearing in ethnic and specialty restaurants and stores, but also in mass market grocery store and supermarket chains.

(MORE: Study: Does Eating White Rice Raise Your Risk of Diabetes?)

While lead exposure can negatively affect cognitive development and performance in kids, adults with high lead exposure can also experience problems with blood pressure, heart disease and calcium deficiency. Tongesayi’s team believes the rice became contaminated during growing and harvesting. “Processing can potentially add some contaminants, but from what we studied, it seems that the contamination is coming from contaminated soils and contaminated irrigation waters,” he says.

The findings come after concerns about arsenic contamination in rice as well, but, say the researchers, shouldn’t discourage people from eating rice. Instead, Tongesayi and his colleagues hope their work increases consumer awareness about food safety and prompts more stringent oversight of imported products. “We just hope that our results will  inform public policy and will be used to create stricter regulations on lead in rice, or be used to come up with eating advisories like [those] with mercury in fish,” he says. “It is a bit difficult because people can’t stop eating it, and that is not what we are trying to say, but we want people to be aware that some of the foods they are eating are tainted with these toxic chemicals. You can eat less on a given day.”

Tongesayi only studied imported rice so the findings aren’t applicable to rice grown in the U.S. While the U.S. is a major exporter of rice, imports of rice and rice flour have increased by over 200% since 1999, raising concerns about the safety of the products. Noah Bartolucci, a spokesperson for the FDA, said to BBC News that the agency “plans to review the new research on lead levels in imported rice released today”.  Any adverse effects from contaminants will need to be weighed against the grains’ nutritional benefits. Yet, such results should alert regulatory agencies to be vigilant as global markets continue to expand and imports increase.

15 comments
anonymousposter
anonymousposter

"... the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered stringent inspection of Thai rice imports in every container after a report that Thai rice had been put through fumigation that might harm consumers' health."

The recommendation is to avoid rice of THAI origin for the foreseeable future as there are years of stockpiles (likely with a high risk of contamination).  

http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/topic/649714-thai-rice-stringent-us-checks-pose-image-problem-for-thailand/

ronton
ronton

This item should have a huge RETRACTION update on it. The study was flawed because of faulty equipment, and the author has withdrawn the paper. It has been more than a month, and this item remains here, unchanged, and un-updated.

boydogxw
boydogxw

Ms. Sifferlin - Now, it becomes quite clear: the senior author has withdrawn his paper due to flaws. Just Google: Tsanangurayi Tongesayi withdrawn

I suggest you do something positive to stop the misleading caused by this essay, and learn the lesson on how to deal with astonishing scientific research results.

michellebriscoe
michellebriscoe

Ms. Sifferlin - Are you certain you have your units correct? You state, "The levels ranged from six milligrams/kilogram to 12 milligrams/kilogram...", which are parts-per-million units. Yet, in a study commissioned by Consumer Reports last year, they found only 9 of 91 samples had levels of lead above 5 micrograms/kilograms (parts-per-billion). It seems unlikely there could be such a huge difference in the range of results. Are you certain your reported results should have parts-per-billion units? (http://www.consumerreports.org/content/dam/cro/magazine-articles/2012/November/Consumer%20Reports%20Arsenic%20in%20Food%20November%202012_1.pdf, a link from the main report at http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/arsenic1112.htm).

-Michelle Briscoe, Analytical Chemist, Brooks Rand Labs, Seattle, WA


Informativerg
Informativerg

soooo when will someone actually supply consumers with the checklist of brands we need to return to our stores rather than eat?  

Silly of us to want to know perhaps...but what did you expect the reaction to be?  Maybe people should just find other uses for their bags of rice - A doorstop!  A paperweight!  Look this cool ricefilled beanbag chair!

nosnews
nosnews

Indeed, not only, what is the level of lead in U.S. produced rice, but what is the level of lead in other foods grown in domestic soils and soils around the world, whether organic, natural, or traditional by label.  Also, is anything being done to find out how to mediate the toxicity of the rice?  It is unfortunate that rice and rice products are one of the main substitutes for people who are gluten-intolerant.


KennethGallaher
KennethGallaher

This is inconsistent with other studies which indicated that Thai rice was best.  Indian also good.

Domestic amongst the worst.

JustinUS
JustinUS

Seriously, which brands? Why is this not listed?

amelia
amelia

@KennethGallaher True, in sept 2012 there was a study result reporting us grown rice even organic had alarming levels of arsenic and Thailand's Jasmine rice and India's Basmati were known to be the safest and now we have this study about lead content. Seriously I don't know what to feed my family now. I'm Indian and rice is our staple food. :(


lara.a
lara.a

@@JustinUS this is likely not listed because it's probably irrelevant...  my guess is that their focus was not on calling out specific brands, but rather testing rice in various geographic regions.

This is all the more reason to read labels, paying attention to COOL (Country Of Origin Label).

Also, keep in mind that there is likely no 100% safe option for anything. We do the best we can. Domestic rice (Southern grown rice more so than Californian grown rice)  and rice grown in parts of India, have high levels of arsenic. Now we learn that rice grown in other parts of the world has high levels of lead. So we have to 'pick our poison' as it were, or just reduce the amount of rice you consume across the board.