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Arsenic in Rice

An interview with Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms

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Lundberg Family Farms is a large organic rice grower located in Richvale, California. A pioneer in organic farming, this family-owned company produces a wide variety of rice-based products and is well known for its environmentally sustainable practices, as well as its transparency and proactive stance on the topic of arsenic in rice. Actively working with government regulators and researchers on this issue, the company has been testing its rice products for the past three years and posting those results on lundberg.com.

We talked to CEO Grant Lundberg, a third generation Lundberg family member, about arsenic in rice.

GF&M Rice is a major go-to food for those of us who live gluten-free. The reports of arsenic in rice are a huge concern to the gluten-free community.

Grant Lundberg Of course. Consumers want to know what’s going on and we feel it’s our responsibility to understand this issue and share that knowledge. We believe that’s the only way to work through this issue—and any other issue. We’re going to find out and tell consumers what we know and show them where to find more information.

Arsenic occurs naturally in the earth and in water, right? So why is arsenic in rice in the news?

There’s arsenic everywhere and much of our food has some in it. That’s the given we’re working with. This issue has really come up in the last 4 or 5 years. I think it started with research being done in the Himalayas where they saw arsenic in high levels and its impact on health. The ability to test has improved so you can now detect low, low levels of arsenic at parts per billion. And like anything, we have the information but we don’t have all the understanding of what it really means. That’s where we are and why Lundberg is championing this issue because we need to understand it.

According to Consumer Reports, humans contribute to arsenic in the environment due to arsenic-laced pesticides and drugs used in agricultural production. Do you think that’s why states, like Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, have higher levels in their rice than rice produced in other parts of the world?

I can’t really speak to that. I would say that for us, it has to do with the air, soil and water. The man-made impact is an easy kind of solution to latch onto. I think that’s one part of it. From the science side, it’s hard tie it all together. The research is still ongoing. These are the things we’re trying to understand. We are farmers and processors. We’re learning and understanding this issue from that perspective. We’re sampling our rice with respect to arsenic and making that information available on our website so consumers see it. We’re also posting the current research on this issue. And we’re championing the government regulatory agencies—FDA, EPA and USDA—to take on their roles and responsibilities. When they need information, we’re happy to supply it and to help them understand that this is how we grow organic rice, this is how we produce our product in the mill. As in any kind of issue, we have to work with the institutions that are here to develop the science, the regulatory piece and the human health piece.

Is there anything that Lundberg can do in terms of your rice production to address this problem?

That’s what we’re trying to understand in terms of our growing process. Number one, we want to make sure we aren’t exacerbating the problem, right? We want to understand if there’s a way to manage it. That’s where the research is right now.

Long term, it’s probably going to be trying to figure out if there are ways in rice physiology to eliminate arsenic. That’s probably through breeding but that takes a long time. Also, we need long-term health studies to understand where this fits in terms of the consumers’ level of risk. I think it’s going to come down to a holistic approach to understanding the issue and how people eat. We need to eat holistically according to good health guidelines and we want to help our consumers do that.

Lundberg has been proactive in testing its rice for arsenic content and posting those results online. Do you want to talk about that?

Last summer, Codex [Codex Alimentarius Commission, a joint initiative of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization that’s charged with protecting consumer health] came out with a threshold for arsenic content in white rice of about 200 parts per billion. In testing, we found that our levels for brown rice are less than half of that, so that’s good.

Editor’s note: Brown rice is generally considered to have higher arsenic content than white rice.

Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center says that alternative gluten-free grains, like amaranth, millet and quinoa, have significantly less arsenic than rice.

FDA has stated there are no short-term adverse health effects to consuming rice but it recommends eating a balanced and diversified diet of a variety of grains and we obviously support this recommendation. It’s helpful for consumers to eat a balanced diet, not only to have a well-rounded source of nutrition but also to minimize long-term risks from eating one particular food. There other gluten-free grains that people should put on their menu, including quinoa, wild rice, buckwheat, amaranth and oats. Just make sure they’re certified gluten-free oats.

Do you recommend rinsing rice before you cook it and making rice in large amounts of water—a 6 to 1/water to rice ratio— and then draining it? Do these methods reduce arsenic levels?

We have these suggestions on our website. But consumers should know that there’s a trade-off. These techniques will also reduce the nutritional benefits, the vitamins and such. I encourage consumers to check out our website for more information.

What else would you like our readers to know?

We understand the gluten-free community’s concern. This is an extremely important issue for us. We’re going to stay on it until we get resolution and full understanding. We are committed to safe, healthy food. We put our name on our products and we and our families eat these products. So we have a very emotional commitment to understanding this issue, as well as a scientific commitment. We’re going to keep testing. We’re going to keep championing the institutions to do their work. We encourage all consumers to study the available information for themselves. We’ve brought all the information together through links on our website, lundberg.com.