Arsenic polluting rice crops
Bogotá D. C., jun. 25 de 2012 - Agencia de Noticias UN- Consumption of arsenic tainted rice affects more than 80 million people around the world. UN experts fear that its proliferation could reach Colombian rice crops.
The greatest poisoning know to humankind is occurring in the River Ganges delta, in Bangladesh and a large part of India, where millions have already been affected by problems related to high arsenic intake.
This element is produced naturally and comes down from the Himalayan mountain rivers which frequently flood rice crops below. The type of soil found in the delta lacks sufficient oxides to trap pollutants, and therefore these crops end up with arsenic poisoning.
“Organic arsenic is found in foods such as fish and is not harmful as it is rapidly excreted, usually within 24 hours. However, inorganic arsenic is present in rice and water and can be highly toxic”, says Dr. Ángel Carbonell, Food Quality and Safety Research Group Director of the Universidad Miguel Hernández, of Alicante (Spain).
Arsenic finds a path
The arsenic food pollution problem has only begun to affect the Ganges river delta region as of a few years ago. However, in the year 2009, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a document outlining the problem in Europe and other areas of the world as well.
Afterwards, it was determined that the most vulnerable population segment, and therefore the most affected by arsenic poisoning, were children. Arsenic contamination was identified in baby food products, such as rice milk and pureed baby foods, amongst others.
Although Colombia has had no recorded cases of this kind, authorities are concerned due to the presence of chemical pollution in other regions such as the southern United States, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.
According to Dr. Carbonell, this problem could become world-wide if control measures are not taken and the problem studied in more depth. He says, “naturally toxic compounds don’t exist, compounds can become toxic to the body based on concentration levels and the amounts ingested”.
Additionally, a study on the nature of the pollutant, its concentration level, and dosage for each specific case is necessary, because unfortunately there are no general solutions.
How to face the pollution?
According to Dr. Carbonell, it is clear that during processing and cooking, arsenic contamination could be reduced, although it can’t be totally eliminated. However, good root cleansing and peeling of cultivated foodstuffs eliminates most chemical contaminants.
“The solution is to process and cook suspected foods in high volumes of water. We need to go contrary to what’s in fashion, in other words, the tendency is to eat ecological, or whole grain foods. Unfortunately, in the case of rice, a great part of the arsenic accumulates in the rice bran and germ. Therefore, we need to process white polished rice instead of brown rice, especially for baby food”, says Carbonell.
Finally, children under three years of age and celiac diseased infants (who suffer from chronic intestinal disease) could be at an even higher risk with regard to excessive intake of inorganic arsenic.
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