Thursday, August 29, 2013
SCIENCE CITY OF MUNOZ, Nueva Ecija – The Philippine Rice Reseach Institute is seeking a full-blown investigation into the possible presence of heavy, carcinogenic metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead in rice.
Joy Bartolome Duldulao, PhilRice chemist and executive assistant, said the country should tap a specific agency to monitor the levels of heavy metals in rice which have alarmed rice eaters in some parts of the world.
Based on the results of a study, there have been an increase in the levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead in rice. The rice scare started in November 2012 amid reports that tons of rice had been contaminated with arsenic.
A month later, the PhilRice website published a report of Duldulao on the arsenic content of Philippine rice wherein she reported that local rice stocks are arsenic-free.
However, Duldulao admitted that the study covered rice samples from only 10 rice-producing sites in the country.
“We cannot categorically say that it (Philippine rice) is safe (from arsenic). It might not be true in areas where there are mining and recent volcanic activities,” Duldulao said.
The scare was followed by reports of lead and cadmium contamination in April and May 2013, which was attributed to contamination from the environment. These three elements are known carcinogens, or can cause cancer.
The lead scare was triggered by a study made by Dr. Tsanangurayi Tongesayi, associate professor at the Monmouth University. It showed that lead levels on US rice imports from Asian and European countries exceed between 20 and 40 times the "provisional total tolerable intake" for adults set by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Duldulao said that in the course of the study’s review, it was found that the measurements were made using an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, an instrument with low accuracy, and which tended to overestimate. Subsequently, the study was withdrawn by the researcher.
After the study on lead levels in rice came out, the Philippine EcoWaste Coalition also did a study on rice sacks. It showed that lead in some rice sacks were exceedingly high, possibly due to the paint used on the labels.
“Though the lead can rub off on the rice, we have to analyze the rice itself,” Duldulao said.
Last May 17, an international global rice website, Oryza.com, published a report saying that the Food and Drug Administration of Guangzhou City in Southern China has found excessive levels of cadmium in about 44.44 percent of rice samples taken from different restaurants and food outlets in the city.
The morning after, the South China Morning Post website posted the the news about cadmium-contaminated rice samples from Guangzhuo. According to the news item, inspectors from Guangzhuo’s Food and Drug Administration found rice samples that had cadmium levels higher than specified in China’s food safety standards.
On June 2, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said that the 25,000 metric tons of rice the country is set to import from China will be tested for cadmium content through the customs quarantine process.
Duldulao said China rice cannot be generalized as cadmium-contaminated unless it is from Guangzhuo, which suffers from industrial pollution.
He said that the Philippines has yet to set allowable levels of these heavy metals in food.
To limit exposure to these toxins from eating rice, Duldulao said three measures can be done : wash rice thoroughly before cooking; pour off the water after boiling; and never restrict one’s diet to rice alone.
He said Pinoys may feast on other crops that also provide carbohydrates such as corn, sweet potato, potato, squash and banana, among others. (Manny Galvez)
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