Congress Agrees That Arsenic in Rice Is Scary, Pushes for R.I.C.E. Act

R.I.C.E. Act would require FDA to set maximum levels for arsenic in rice

RICE act

The R.I.C.E. Act would require FDA to set maximum levels for arsenic in rice. (Photo: Pascal Deloche/Getty Images)

Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Recent news that your favorite bag of rice may be harboring harmful levels of arsenic left consumers reeling, and prompted three lawmakers to introduce a bill they hope will put pressure on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to take swift action.

The R.I.C.E. Act (Reducing Food-based Inorganic and Organic Compound Exposure Act) would require the FDA to set maximum arsenic levels allowed in foods containing rice. There are no current federal standards for arsenic in most foods, although the EPA has set national standards for drinking water of no more than 10 parts per billion (ppb).

“The idea that high levels of arsenic, a known carcinogen, are present in rice, cereal and other common, everyday foods is absolutely outrageous,” said Rep. Rosa De Lauro (D-CT) in a statement. “The federal government has an obligation to every American family to ensure that the food they consume is safe and should not make them sick. This is not the first time we have been alerted to the dangers of arsenic, and quite simply we must do more to ensure that our food supply is safe. This bill is a step in that direction.”

Arsenic Alarm: Rice Packs an Unwanted Ingredient

Sponsoring the bill (H.R. 6509) with De Lauro is Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Nita Lowey (NY-D). All three are currently running for reelection. It’s not the first time the group of Democrats has acted on arsenic news. In February, they introduced the Apple Juice Act (H.R. 3984) after unsafe levels of arsenic were reportedly found in popular brands of apple juice.

Arsenic is found naturally in soil and water, but can also enter the environment through the use of arsenic-based pesticides and intensive agriculture practices, including poultry production. But even for Northern California organic rice grower Lundberg Family Farms, arsenic levels were detected, placing them on the list published by Consumer Reports.

Jessica Lundberg tells TakePart, they began testing for arsenic levels back in February, after a Dartmouth study showed worrisome arsenic levels in foods sweetened with organic brown rice syrup, sometimes used as a substitute for high-fructose corn syrup.  

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. We’ve been doing testing since February to ensure that our products are safe,” she says. “We’ve offered our assistance to the FDA and will continue to do so. Even though we don’t have all the answers, we’re trying to provide people with as much information as we can find, including how to prepare rice using the pasta method.”

Sonya Lunder, senior analyst a Environmental Working Group, says the public attention and the proposed R.I.C.E. Act will put welcomed pressure on the FDA to act.

“The FDA needs to do something. Consumers know virtually nothing about this and many eat [rice] daily,” she tells TakePart. “We’re all in this together. There’s not a villain here, unlike some other kinds of contamination, but it doesn’t mean we don’t hold rice to the same standard that we hold to other foods.”

Lundberg agrees that the proposed bill and public conversation will help consumers make the right decisions.

“It’s difficult to discuss the impact any bill will have on our farms, our land, our product,” she says. “But we think the process and having the conversation will be good for the consumer.”

Is the R.I.C.E. Act enough alleviate fears of arsenic in rice for you? Let us know in the comments

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