Does rice grown in the U.S. contain unsafe amounts of arsenic?

Gary Ginsberg
Medical Toxicology

Major portions of the US cotton belt have been converted over to rice production, so much so that the US south produces 12% of all rice on the planet. The majority of rice consumed in the US is domestic. Cotton fields historically received high doses of arsenic-based pesticide and this arsenic is still sitting in the topsoil. When you flood fields to create rice paddies, the arsenic is mobilized and goes right into the crop. The good news is that it's toxic to rice, causing a syndrome called straighthead disease. That should have been enough to kill the concept, especially since who would want to produce rice with high levels of arsenic, a well-known nerve poison and carcinogen? Well, apparently our own US Dept of Agriculture would want to. Their research into rice cultivars that are resistant to arsenic has been a huge commercial success in the southern heartland. They are still doing research to improve rice production in high-arsenic soils.

To be fair, USDA is also doing research to try to find cultivars that don't become so highly contaminated by arsenic. But this research is not protecting the American public from the bad idea of growing rice on old cotton fields. This is tinkering with the US food supply to maximize profit with minimal thought given to food safety. Its sister agency, FDA, does not even have safety standards for arsenic in rice.

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