The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental and health watchdog, has urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to assure consumers that rice being sold in the market is safe from arsenic, a highly toxic cancer-causing chemical.
“To allay consumer concern over arsenic in rice, we urge the DA to sample polished rice being sold in the market to determine their arsenic content,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
“The sampling should cover locally grown rice, as well as rice imported from other countries,” he said.
“For transparency sake, we suggest that such sampling exercise should involve various food safety stakeholders,” he added.
“Being a rice-eating nation of 100 million people, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Food Security Chief Francis Pangilinan need to ensure that all Filipinos, especially the children and other vulnerable groups, have access to safe rice,” he emphasized.
The group’s proposal for rice sampling came on the heels of a recent recommendation by the Codex Alimentarius Commission that arsenic in rice should not exceed 0.2 mg/kg to protect consumers from excessive exposure.
Codex is an international body established by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) that sets international food safety and quality standards.
According to Codex, arsenic is present in many foods due to absorption from the soil and water.
“Rice in particular can take up more arsenic than other foods and due to its high consumption can contribute significantly to arsenic exposure,” Codex said.
At its 37th Session held in Geneva, Switzerland from July 14-18, 2014, Codex adopted several food safety standards, including maximum allowable levels for inorganic arsenic in rice, fumonisins in maize and maize products and lead in infant formula, as well as maximum levels for food additives and maximum residue levels for pesticides.
Arsenic belongs to the WHO’s list of ten chemicals of major public health concern.
According to a WHO fact sheet, “arsenic is highly toxic in its inorganic form.”
“Contaminated water used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to public health from arsenic,” the fact sheet warned.
“Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking-water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. It has also been associated with developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes,” the WHO said.