Rice is one of the world’s most important grains, eaten as a staple part of the diet by the majority of the world’s population.
Research carried out by Professor Jörg Feldmann of the University of Aberdeen has explored the amount and type of arsenic that can be found in rice and rice products and reasons for its occurrence.
Rice contains arsenic because in countries where it’s grown such as India and Bangladesh, it is naturally occurring in the soil and in groundwater which is used for irrigation of rice in the dry season.
The arsenic found in rice can be subcategorised further – one of these categories is inorganic arsenic which is a class I carcinogen which means it can cause cancer.
A study of market bought rice in Aberdeen revealed that levels of inorganic arsenic from rice produced in the USA was much higher than that in rice from India and Bangladesh.
The Aberdeen paper received such attention scientifically that it became the most influential paper related to the study of the levels of arsenic in rice. It also attracted major global media interest.
Since its publication China has for the first time implemented a maximum permissible level of inorganic arsenic in different grain types including rice.
Using the Chinese levels as a benchmark, the Aberdeen team showed that many European products, including baby rice milk did not pass the Chinese regulatory limit.
This attracted the attention of the European Food Safety Authority who commissioned the team to carry out further tests to prove that a robust analytical methodology exists to determine levels of inorganic arsenic in rice and rice-based products. The Aberdeen group was significantly involved as an expert lab to organise worldwide proficiency tests and generating a certified reference material for inorganic arsenic in rice.
The research has been identified as fundamental by food standards agencies in USA, the UK, and the European Union."
The impact of the research is ongoing, but has been identified as fundamental by food standards agencies in USA, the UK, and the European Union, leading to policy decisions and changes to established practice amongst public policy practitioners under the leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.