Rice Production Continues

A worker helps fill a truck with rice to be shipped to Freeport from Rice Belt Warehouse just outside El Campo. Area rice professionals and the Federal Drug Administration are maintaining that rice is safe to eat after a new study says the staple crop contains arsenic.

Local producers say rice is a part of a healthy diet and there is no reason to avoid eating it despite a study claiming the crop may contain arsenic.

“It’s alarming that the media would take this study and blast this information out to the public without all the facts,” Rice Belt Warehouse Manager Dick Ottis said Thursday. “Certainly, we need to monitor the safety of the food we grow, but there is no evidence that rice products are unhealthy when in fact, they help support healthy diets all around the world.”

The Federal Drug Administration is challenging a study that says Americans should limit rice consumption due to arsenic levels - a claim that could affect Wharton County’s already struggling rice economy.

Consumer Reports magazine released an article this week claiming a study found rice and rice products to contain “worrisome” levels of the chemical element found naturally in the air, water and soil. The magazine advised consumers to limit eating rice to twice a week, something the FDA advised is a “premature” recommendation.

“Based on the available data and scientific literature the FDA is not recommending changes by consumers regarding consumption of rice and rice products,” the FDA stated. “Our advice for consumers is to eat a balanced diet including a wide variety of grains, not only for good nutrition, but also to minimize any consequences from consuming any one particular food.”

Many vegetables and fruits intake arsenic as they grow from soil and water. Rice is grown in water, but U.S. rice producers do not use arsenical pesticides when growing rice. The FDA has been studying levels of arsenic in rice for the past 20 years and has yet to set federal guidelines of arsenic levels in food. Total arsenic levels are composed of organic and inorganic compounds. Inorganic is considered a human carcinogen.

Last year, Bay City residents were told their water supply contained levels of arsenic that exceeded federal standards by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, Ottis said.

The town is located in Matagorda County, one of the largest rice producing counties in the state. It should be noted that health officials told residents that there was no need to stop drinking the water.

The Matagorda Advocate reported on this issue in November 2011.

The USA Rice Federation questions the accuracy of the Consumer Reports study, stating that it uses an “arsenic content standard” that doesn’t exist in federal law.

“It cites federal health data to allege health risk from arsenic ingestion when that data is based on arsenic excreted from, rather than absorbed by the body,” the USA Rice Federation states. “It offers consumption advice without addressing all of the relevant public health issues that must be taken into account.”

The last arsenic scare involved an investigation that studied bottled apple juice, something the FDA disputed because it involved adding the amount of organic and inorganic arsenic together to inflate levels. Total levels were found to be much lower than first reported.

Though an FDA study of 200 rice samples yielded similar results to the study, the organization says it is continuing to collect analyze an additional 1,000 samples to cover a larger variety of rice from different geological regions.

“I think we need to calm down and look at this situation rationally,” Ottis said. “Anything in excess can be potentially harmful, but we’ve looked at this issue before and there is no link between rice and illness. Our rice industry is struggling enough as it is with the water crisis. The last thing these farmers need right now is a health scare related to rice.”

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