Saturday, April 19, 2014

Poisoning the Rice

The environmental news out of China would be bad under any circumstances--as always--but combined with what we're learning about rice, it seems especially worrisome.

China's government has released a study conducted from 2006 to 2013 that found that 19.4 percent of all arable land in the country is contaminated. Cadmium, nickel, and arsenic--products of emissions from Chinese industry--are the chief pollutants in the soil with the heaviest concentrations located in the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta, and the northeast corner of China.

Meanwhile, studies conducted in the U.S. have found that rice absorbs arsenic and cadmium from the soil all too efficiently. In traditional rice-growing, where a paddy is flooded with water, rice draws arsenic from the soil. But if the amount of water used is reduced in an effort to limit the absorption of arsenic, rice will absorb cadmium instead. Both elements are toxic.

In addition to a massive environmental cleanup, what China needs is not organic rice but a genetically modified form of the grain that is able to avoid rice's normal thirst for cadmium and arsenic. Until that's available, though, it might be best to go with the noodles.