2011/02/16

China rice laced with heavy metals: report

BEIJING, February 16, 2011 (AFP) - Up to 10 percent of rice grown in China is contaminated with harmful heavy metals stemming from pollution linked to the nation's rapid industrialisation, a report said.

This week's edition of the New Century magazine cited studies showing that large amounts of Chinese rice have been tainted with heavy metals like cadmium for years but that little has been done to highlight the dangers.

"During China's fast-paced industrialisation, activities such as mining have sprung up everywhere, releasing into the environment chemical elements like cadmium, arsenic, mercury and other harmful heavy metals," the report said.

"These harmful heavy metals have spread through the air and water, polluting a rather large area of China's land ... a complete chain of food contamination has existed for years."

The report cited academic studies since 2007 focussing on several rural villages in southern China near mines and industrial areas where health problems such as bone diseases have emerged, mostly among the elderly.

Of the major grains, rice has the strongest tendency to absorb cadmium, which often seeps into water used for irrigation near mines, especially lead, tin and copper mines, the report said.

"No matter if the tests were taken by agricultural ministry departments or by academics, research all shows that about 10 percent of Chinese rice has levels of cadmium that surpass standards," the report said.

It added that no major studies have been done on the toxicity and potential health hazards of eating the tainted rice.

Rice, which is largely grown in south China, is the nation's staple grain with about 200 million tonnes produced annually, the report said.

Food safety is a major problem in China, where quality scares regularly emerge.
Recent scandals have involved contaminated red wine, bleached mushrooms, fake tofu and recycled cooking oil.

In 2008, at least six children died and around 300,000 fell sick after consuming powdered milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine, which was added to make products appear higher in protein.

Rapid industrialisation over the past 30 years helped China become the world's second-largest economy last year.

But the focus on growth, combined with lax environmental protections, have saddled the country with some of the world's worst water and air pollution.