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Q.  What should I know about lead and food?

Lotus Foods FAQs on Lead & Rice
I read about high levels of lead in imported rice. What’s this all about?!

In April 2013, beginning with a BBC article appearing on April 10, 2013, media reports claimed that US rice imports contain harmful levels of lead.1 The reports focused exclusively on tests conducted by scientists at Monmouth University in New Jersey, US. The results were reported in a poster presented by Dr. Tsanangurayi Tongesayi at the American Chemical Society (ACS) conference April 7-11, 2013. The paper was withdrawn shortly after on the grounds that faulty instrumentation had led to the exaggerated levels.2

Unfortunately, the BBC article went viral without any of the news services or journalists questioning the results, which were immediately flagged by rice experts as being inconsistent with data reported in other reputable studies from around the world.

For example, the European Food Safety Authority recently updated itsScientific Opinion on Lead in Food and concluded: "The following food groups were identified as the major contributors to lead exposure: cereal products, followed by potatoes, cereal grains (except rice), cereal-based mixed dishes and leafy vegetables and tap water."3 Rice contributed only 1.5% to total exposure to lead from food, compared with almost 7% from all other cereal products.4 Of the 612 rice samples tested 70% had levels below the limit of detection.5 The European Union imports about 860,000 tons of rice annually. Both Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture (COA) and the president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association (TREA) immediately questioned the credibility of the study.6

So what are tolerable or safe levels?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not set a fixed standard for lead in food but recommends a provisional daily total tolerable intake (PDTTI) for at risk groups of 6, 15, 25, and 75 micrograms for young children, older children, pregnant or lactating women, and adult women, respectively.7 A microgram (abbreviated as mcg or ug) is one millionth of a gram. If a sugar cube (which weighs about 1 gram) is cut into one thousand pieces, and one of those tiny pieces is further cut into another thousand pieces, this would be equivalent to a microgram. The FDA has, however, determined that candy products, which small children might consume in larger quantities, should have no more than 0.1 parts per million (ppm) of lead, the equivalent of 0.1 ug/gm.8

The State of California had developed its own more stringent guidelines for NSRL (no significant risk level) for carcinogens and MADL (maximum allowable dose level) for chemicals causing reproductive toxicity. Proposition 65 has determined that for lead the NSRL is 15 ug /day and the MADL is 0.5 ug/day, significantly lower than what the FDA finds acceptable.9

Has Lotus Foods tested its rice for lead?

Yes. All of our rices were tested April 2013 by Eurofins Labs. The results show that all rices have either non-detectable levels or levels far below any of the current limits, including Proposition 65. Levels detected range from 0.005 to 0.009 ppm, equivalent to 0.005 to 0.009 ug/gm).

What does all this mean for how much Lotus Foods rice I can eat?

Here is an example. Our Bhutan Red Rice showed 0.005 ppm of lead. This translates into 0.005 ug/gm. Therefore, if you were to be super-cautious and adhere to California’s Proposition 65 MADL guidelines, what this means is that every day you could cook 100 gm of dried rice and eat the entire amount before you reached their MADL of 0.5 ug/day. If you adhered to their NRSL of 15 ug/day, you could cook and consume 3 kilos of dried rice every day. And, if you followed the FDA guidelines of no more than 75 ug/day for an adult woman, then you could cook and consume 15 kilos of dry rice every day! To provide some further context, FDA’s Total Diet Study Statistics on Element Results found 0.04 ppm of lead in chocolate syrup dessert topping.10 TheWorld Health Organization calculates that children playing outdoors and in contact with soil can ingest about 2.3 ug (mcg) of lead/day.11

Where can I learn more about lead and food?

Sources abound on the Internet. For example, the European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Opinion on Lead in Food, cited above, is very comprehensive.
http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/1570.pdf

Nutrition and Childhood Lead Poisoning: This article suggests other foods and dietary habits that can reduce the effects of lead.
http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/lead/doc/Chap11Nutrition.pdf

This is the FDA web resource:
http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm2006791.htm

1http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22099990
2http://www.foodproductdesign.com/news/2013/04/study-linking-rice-to-elevated-lead-levels-withdr.aspx
3http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/1570.pdf (p.3)
4http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/1570.pdf (p.54)
5http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/1570.pdf (p.35)
6http://oryza.com/content/taiwan-thailand-doubt-credibility-us-research-excessive-lead-imported-rice
7http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm115941.htm
8http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm172050.htm#lead
9http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65/pdf/022813safeharbor.pdf
10http://www.fda.gov/downloads/food...totaldietstudy/ucm184301.pdf (p. 93)
11http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/1570.pdf (p. 23-24)