LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe and state rice industry officials questioned a study Wednesday by Consumer Reports suggesting there might be significant levels of arsenic in rice grown in this region of the United States.
"They’re not doing anything different with rice, as I understand it, than they have ever done," Beebe said. We’ve lived off of it for years. It’s good, it’s nutritious and it’s a major part of our agriculture industry. I’m not going to quit eating rice."
Arkansas ranks first among rice-producing states, supplying 45 percent of the nation’s rice. The industry generates more than $1 billion annually to the state’s economy.
In its November issue, Consumer Reports, a consumer watchdog publication, says that it has conducted studies of a number of rice products sold at grocery stores, including some baby food, and found most contained levels of arsenic, a known human carcinogen.
The rice in the products was produced in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas, the article said. The arsenic may have come from pesticides used years ago to kill boll weevils on cotton grown in those areas, it said.
The article urged people, especially small children, to limit the amount of rice products they eat.
The federal Food and Drug Administration issued a statement this week saying it has looked at Consumer Report’s research and "there is an absence of the necessary scientific data that shows a causal relationship between those who consume higher levels of rice and rice products and the type of illness usually detected with arsenic.
"Based on the available data and scientific literature, the FDA is not recommending changes by consumers regarding their consumption of rice and rice products. We believe it would be premature for the FDA to recommend modifying diets because of arsenic levels until a more thorough analysis is completed," the agency said.
Ben Noble, executive director of the Arkansas Rice Federation, said everyone gets a little nervous when they hear the word arsenic, but the element occurs naturally "in our air, water, rocks and soil."
"It’s been in our food supply and no pesticides containing arsenic are used when growing Arkansas or U.S. rice," Noble said. "We will continue to work with the FDA, food scientists, nutritionists and manufacturers as they look further into this issue."
Brandy Carroll, administrator for the Arkansas Research and Promotion Board, also said consumers have no need to worry.
"This is not a food safety concern and it’s certainly not an immediate food safety concern," Carroll said.