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Making rice safe from arsenic

Rice accumulates significantly higher levels of arsenic (As) than other crops. This threat to human health was addressed by EU-funded scientists who conducted risk assessments of inorganic arsenic (i-As) in rice-based products and developed new ways of limiting exposure
Making rice safe from arsenic
The main exposure route of inorganic arsenic (i-As) to EU citizens is through their diet, the main source being rice. Children are particularly susceptible to arsenic exposure, which can adversely affect long-term health, with infant consumers of rice products one of the groups with the highest exposure levels in the EU.

The aim of the RICENIC (Risk assessment of inorganic arsenic in EU rice-based infant products and strategies to reduce exposure) was to provide risk assessment of inorganic compounds arsenic exposure to infants and young children and devise effective strategies to reduce inorganic arsenic burden in rice-based infant products.

A database of total arsenic (t-As), i-As and As bioavailability was created for rice-based products marketed in the EU and consumed by babies and young children. In addition, the effects of agricultural practices on the As concentration and speciation in rice grains and the effect of the manufacturing process on As was determined in rice-based infant products. Researchers also improved the framework for understanding i-As in the human diet, which was used to help set i-As standards in food.

Scientists found that it was best to use polished rice in rice-based products for infants and young children, as this type of rice has significantly less i-As than whole grain rice. In addition, variation in i-As from paddy field samples and commercial samples from the Iberian Peninsula were studied and paddy field areas with low inorganic arsenic rice were identified. Thus, rice with low concentrations of i-As should be selected to manufacture food for infants and young children.

A method of cooking the rice was developed that removed around 90 % of the inorganic arsenic burden from individual rice and rice bran samples. Its use in manufacture of rice-based infant products will therefore significantly reduce the concentration of i-As. Rice and rice based products with low inorganic arsenic could potentially be sold as premium products, which highlights the potential socio-economic impact of the RICENIC project.

Food Standard Agencies have already taken advantage of the project’s results, which have been applied to assess early life inorganic arsenic exposure in several EU countries and to minimise health risks for the most vulnerable subpopulations.

Related information

Keywords

Rice, arsenic, risk assessment, RICENIC, bioavailability, paddy field
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