Exposing arsenic in rice crops

High levels of arsenic in rice have been shown to be associated with elevated genetic damage in humans but our partnership with chemical biologists in India is tackling the issue head on.

We hope that our work will encourage efforts to introduce regulatory standards for arsenic in food, and particularly in rice, which are more consistent and protective of human health.

Professor David Polya / Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Results of this study will not only help to understand the toxic effects caused by this human carcinogen but also these results will help the scientists and regulatory authorities to design further extensive research to set improved regulatory values for arsenic in rice, particularly for those billions of people who consume 10 to 50% rice in their daily diet.

Dr Ashok K Giri / CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology

People can be exposed to arsenic by eating rice from fields irrigated with contaminated water. To understand the risk this poses, the extent of arsenic exposure through consumption of rice must be determined.

We teamed up with the CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology in Kolkata to analyse arsenic concentrations in local rice and average levels of consumption. We discovered that in affected areas rice is a major arsenic exposure route for humans and the calculated lifetime cancer risk for people consuming rice as a staple food with typical arsenic levels exceeds the risk from drinking contaminated water.

Our joint research has led to changes in the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) recommendations and increased awareness of the importance of rice as a significant arsenic exposure route by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).