Rice Becomes Latest Victim

As a mere child, which seems like a long time ago, I was always told to clean my plate and eat all my vegetables so that I could grow up to be big and strong. In the fifth grade, I weighed in at 60 pounds soaking wet while holding a very wet washcloth. The greatest thing to me at that time was to someday be big and strong. However, the only thing that really seemed to happen was for me to end up being primarily big. I guess I took the advice of cleaning my plate too seriously and I don’t have anyone to blame but myself.
Each and every day it seems we are bombarded by the media on what foods we should and should not eat. The subject that bothers me the most, that appears in the media way too often, is all the hype over carcinogens and other chemicals in the foods we consume, without real cause for alarm. In the last few days, Consumer Reports issued a report that the rice we grow in the southern United States contains varied levels of arsenic. Back in the spring, they also issued reports on apple and grape juice with the same warnings that sent many mothers in a panic that caused problems for apple and grape producers. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in many foods that we consume daily. In fact, there are large numbers of carcinogens in every meal we eat, all perfectly natural and traditional, making no human diet completely free of these elements.
Going all the way back to 1958, when the United States Congress passed legislation to keep carcinogens out of our food supply, it was assumed that carcinogens were rarely found in foods and were put there by humans, either purposefully, through food additives, or inadvertently in the form of pesticide residues.
People then began promoting natural foods and testing large amounts of food items on lab animals, mainly rats. The rats developed cancer from the foods, but primarily because of the amounts that they were fed. In the intervening years, it has become clear that naturally occurring chemicals, chemicals that are plentiful in the food supply, but not put there by man, can cause cancer in rodents when fed in high doses over a lifetime. These feedings in many cases were 10,000 times higher than human intake of synthetic pesticides or additives that had been designated as rodent carcinogens.
It is important to remember that carcinogens are everywhere naturally in our food supply. For example, furfural is a carcinogen. Furfural is found in many of the breads we eat and when fed to lab animals in large amounts it can cause cancer. However, when you take into account the difference in body weight between a human and a rat, based on the carcinogenicity data available from the laboratory, a person would have to eat 82,600 slices of bread per day for years to equal the amount of furfural that increased the risk of cancer in lab rats. If you eat that many slices of bread a day, you may have larger problems as well, like your pants size.
In a statement from the USA Rice Federation they said, “We understand that ‘arsenic’ is an alarming word, but we believe it is important for consumers to know that arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our air, water, rocks and soil. This is how plants uptake arsenic. As a result, it’s always been in the food supply and is in many healthy foods that are consumed by billions of people every day. No arsenical pesticides are used when growing U.S. rice.

“We are disappointed in today’s Consumer Reports article for failing to add meaningfully to the public discourse about this important issue. Instead, the article is incomplete and inaccurate on many levels: it employs an ‘arsenic content standard’ that simply doesn’t exist in federal law. It cites federal health data to allege health risk from arsenic ingestion when that data is based on arsenic excreted from, rather than absorbed by, the body. It offers consumption advice without addressing all of the relevant public health issues that must be taken into account.”

It is important that we all become educated consumers and dismiss the “carcinogen of the week” scare that is media-hyped. Rather we should study our lessons and recognize the fact that many times all the facts are not reported.
Above all, do what our teachers and mothers have told us for years. Work on our dietary patterns, eat more fruits and vegetables along with the rest of the other food groups, and don’t panic.  
 – Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com