Imported rice feared to contain arsenic

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VARIOUS cause-oriented groups have expressed alarm over reports that millions of tons of rice being imported by the National Food Authority (NFA) from other countries could contain high level of toxic arsenic chemical.

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Mike Domingo, convenor of People for Empowerment and Truth said that rice is the main staple of the Filipino people hence the government should take seriously “this unwelcome development.”

This developed as they called on the Aquino government to craft outright and effective measures to ensure that rice being sold in the markets is safe and fit for human consumption.

Domingo was reacting to a July 19 article of the South China Morning Post, which reported that the Codex Alimentarius Commission has decided to recommend a uniform “international standard limiting the arsenic level of rice being sold in the market by rice exporting countries.”

The commission, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland also said that their studies revealed that consumption of food that contains arsenic that is beyond the tolerable limit, could result to serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease, nervous system breakdown, brain damage and others.

Arsenic is said to be highly toxic metallic element that has color yellow, black and gray which is said to the most common.

But despite its toxic quality, its component is still being used in the manufacture of pesticides, weed killers and other products for farming and agriculture purposes.

“Arsenic is an environmental contaminant. It occurs naturally and is taken up by plants from the water and soil when they’re growing, in particular rice,” World Health Organization food safety coordinator Angelika Tritscher said in a statement.

Thus the commission has set a maximum of 0.2 milligrams of arsenic for every kilo of rice for safe consumption of an individual.

“Since rice is a very important staple food for many countries and many regions of the world, a significant part of the global population is affected,” Tritscher added.

She identified Bangladesh parts of China, Cambodia, India and Vietnam as countries found to have high level of arsenic on their rice products.

Codex Commission is composed of 186 nations under the supervision of WHO and UN agency Food and Agriculture Organization.

However, Domingo pointed out that this development should serve as a red flag for the government and for it to rethink its rice importation policies.

“The government should ensure that the millions of tons of imported rice coming into the country annually are safe and it can be done if a fool proof system will be in place,” he said.

The group recommended for the government to stop the habit of importing rice, which is deemed unsafe and instead redirect its resources in improving the local rice production.

“Dapat kasi ay mabaling na ang ating atensyon kung paano pauunlarin ang sarili nating mga sakahan at mga magsasaka, upang sa ganoon ay hindi tayo laging umaasa sa mga kalapit bansa natin para pakainin ang ating mga kababayan,” he explained.

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