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Consumer Reports arsenic alarm still having an impact

  • Consumer confidence in rice and rice products took a hit from a Consumer Reports study, but is starting to recover.

A Consumer Reports article on arsenic in rice continues to impact consumer confidence and sales of some rice products.

Consumer Reports released the arsenic article on Sept. 19, along with a very well coordinated media campaign, citing its own study which indicated “worrisome” levels of arsenic in rice and rice products. It called out specific brands and the need for federal standards for arsenic in food.

The study, poorly conceived and inconclusive, nonetheless generated sensational media coverage, in which Consumer Reports urged consumers to limit their consumption of rice. It was sheer sensationalism and worked – sort of.

At the recent USA Rice Outlook Conference, Betsy Ward, president and CEO of the USA Rice Federation, noted that comprehensive analysis of sales in supermarkets and other retail outlets indicated that sales in the domestic market took a hit in the days following the news. Sales in the total rice category declined 3 percent in the week after the Consumer Reports study, while brown rice sales declined 6.5 percent.

(See: USA Rice: Consumer Reports inaccurate on arsenic claims)

The latest data, for the week of Oct. 27, shows a growth of about 2 percent in the total rice category, but still a 3 percent decline for brown rice.

On the Web, blogs continue to ring the arsenic alarm and some in Congress are pressuring FDA to regulate arsenic in rice and arsenic in food.

The impact certainly could have been a lot worse if not for the quick response of the rice industry.

In advance of the Consumer Reports article, the USA Rice Federation informed members and key food industry stakeholders of the issue and identified the need for a public education campaign to address consumer concerns.

Ward noted that a key element of the rice industry’s response was media outreach and the development of a consumer website,, which received over 36 million impressions after Consumer Reports launched its misguided campaign.

USA Rice also identified scientific and medical experts to deliver key messages regarding the safety of U.S. grown rice and rice products, which resulted in over 500 stories specifically quoting USA Rice Federation spokespersons, media releases or web content.

The rice industry also provided members, customers and key congressional offices with statements from USA Rice and FDA emphasizing that no dietary changes regarding rice consumption were necessary.

The U.S. rice industry has to stay the course and use sound science, thoughtfulness and communication to stay in front of the next round of media coverage, while continuing to fund research that could minimize arsenic levels in rice.

Meanwhile, FDA is conducting an actual scientific study on arsenic in rice and will post results on 1,200 rice product samples by the end of the year. From this, FDA will develop a risk assessment, followed by a risk management plan which could include some standards for allowable levels of arsenic in rice.

By the way, that’s the real story about arsenic in rice.

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

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on May 18, 2013

Rice consumption is increasing actually...That may be the reason of this percentage... Bookmark It

vega (not verified)
on May 28, 2013

Arsenic is notoriously poisonous to multicellular life, although a few species of bacteria are able to use arsenic compounds as respiratory metabolites.
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vish (not verified)
on Sep 19, 2013

Consumer reports study conducted recently showed that there is a worrisome amount of arsenic in rice and rice products in the market. This created anxiety among customers and resulted in the breakdown of rice market. Good to know that FDA is conducting an actual scientific study on this issue. Hope the issues will be fixed as soon as possible.

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