The age old saying of “you are what you eat” is proving to be the truism of current food production that is slowly killing us. While arsenic in chicken feed has been one of my pet peeves for a very long time, learning that arsenic is found in one of the main staples of our diet has really got me peeved. Rice – who would have thought?
New findings released by the Consumers Union sampled both organically grown and conventionally grown rice products and nearly all contained some level of arsenic and a great deal of them contained enough to cause alarm. Is there nothing sacred anymore?
How much arsenic is enough to cause alarm? This is another one of those times where I close my eyes, shake my head, and say “you’ve got to be kidding me”. Not surprising is that there is no federal standard for arsenic in food and the Consumers Union says that one serving of rice may contain as much inorganic arsenic as an entire day’s worth of drinking water.
The main culprit identified in this latest food fiasco is lead-arsenate insecticides used to control pests, mostly the boll weevil, on cotton farms. This was a heavily relied upon practice until the 1980’s when the extra dangerous chemicals were understandably banned because of their lead content. Why not their arsenic content?
Consumer Reports, November issue, says that rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more effectively than most plants because it’s one of the only major crops grown in water flooded conditions. This allows arsenic to be more easily taken up by its roots and stored in grains.
Also identified is location and the breakdown of where rice is grown in the U.S. Most of us would say that rice is grown in California however according to Consumer Reports, in 2010 only about 15 percent of California was in rice acreage. The leader in rice acreage is Arkansas with a whopping 49 percent and the remaining 36 percent is divided up between Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas.
The looming question is – How did arsenic get into the organic rice? Foremost is all of the arsenic left behind from the lead-arsenate insecticides. That arsenic never went anywhere and now the organic crop planted on the same land is absorbing what remained in the soil. Some call it the “legacy of soil”.
That word bothers me – Legacy! Gifting, bequeathing, handing down are words that come to mind and it conjures up the same old scenario…… what are we leaving to future generations? Does greed outweigh common sense? Does anyone really give a damn?
In addition to the arsenic legacy there are still several non-lead based arsenical pesticides in use today. Consumers Union says that there is still one important pesticide, MSMA in use which is being allowed because of increasing problems of Palmer pigweed that’s been created by overuse of Glyphosate, better known as Roundup used on Roundup Ready GMO seeds. In their infinite wisdom and weighing the lost revenue in cotton (25 percent or more) against banning arsenic herbicides, Federal regulators calculated it’s worth the risk to continue the use.
The plot thickens when arsenic laden animal manure is used on the same land as fertilizer adding to the amount of leftover arsenic. Ironically, organic standards permit use of this manure. My radar started blipping when I read that Arkansas had 49 percent of rice acreage because the state in 2010 ranked second only to Mississippi in broiler production and is home to the number one broiler production company, Tyson Foods. Arkansas has a history of poultry manure issues.
I’m no rocket scientist however my common sense becomes alarmed over mentioning’s of arsenic in our food supply. It’s been in use for over 2,400 years and has a well-documented history connected to poisoning. Arsenic was a favorite murder weapon in the Middle Ages and by the 19th century, it earned the nickname “inheritance powder”. Maybe the legacy we are handing to our heirs is a payback for all of the heirs in the past who used it to speed up their inheritance. That could be as good an excuse as any for continued use of arsenic in food production!
I for one am sick and tired of continually hearing about evidence of arsenic in our food supply and it’s not because the evidence is uncovered and keeps mounting. It’s fairly simple – ARSENIC KILLS! I don’t want to be a federally calculated risk worth taking because greed has its hand out. What part of that statement don’t they get?