The Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday denied that rice contaminated with heavy metals had been shipped to the US. The council’s remarks came after foreign media reports said rice from Italy, China, Taiwan and several other countries sold in US shops contained higher than acceptable levels of lead.
The reports were based on an analysis by a group of researchers led by Tsanangurayi Tongesayi, an associate professor of chemistry at Monmouth University in New Jersey.
Tongesayi made his team’s research findings public at a meeting of the American Chemical Society on Thursday.
He was quoted by the BBC as having said his team had sampled packaged rice from Taiwan, Bhutan, Italy, China, India, Israel, the Czech Republic and Thailand.
The team measured lead levels in the rice from each country and calculated the lead intake on the basis of daily consumption.
“When we compared them, we realized that the daily exposure levels are much higher than those PTTIs [provisional total tolerable intake] set by the US Food and Drug Administration,” Tongesayi was quoted as saying.
Council officials have questioned the credibility of the reports.
“The reports were not reasonable and not equitable because they were based on an analysis by a single US university rather than on an examination by a US government agency,” Agriculture and Food Agency Deputy Director-General Chen Chien-pin (陳建斌) said.
The US has not set any permissible levels for lead in rice, he added.
Taiwan’s government has set the acceptable level for lead in rice at 0.2 ppm (parts per million) in accordance with the Codex Alimentarius Commission, he said, adding that the Department of Health tests 162 samples of packaged rice each year and has never detected excessive levels of lead in any of the samples.
Agriculture and Food Agency Director Li Tsang-lang (李蒼郎) added that no locally grown rice has ever been found to contain higher-than-acceptable levels of lead in heavy metal contamination tests.
“Any rice crops suspected of heavy metal contamination would definitely be destroyed in paddies and are not likely to hit store shelves, not to mention being exported,” Li said.
Taiwan only exported 43 tonnes of rice to the US last year, Li said, while it imported 64,634 tonnes of US-grown rice to meet the requirements of the WTO.
“Our rice exports to the US so far this year are only 5 tonnes,” Li added.
“It was unfair to examine Taiwan rice commercially available in the US, given its limited quantity,” Chen said, adding that it was also not reasonable to test China-grown rice as China exported only 3,600 tonnes of rice to the US last year.
Chen said his agency will ask Taiwan’s representative office in the US to verify the university study.