Several edible rice products sold in Hong Kong contain excessive amount of inorganic arsenic, a study has found, prompting warnings about health risks to children.
The Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre (HKORC), an entity under the Hong Kong Baptist University, said tests conducted by it on rice products warrant alarm, as the levels of inorganic arsenic in about 30 percent of the samples exceeded the infant and child intake standard.
Excessive consumption of such products could increase the risk of cancer and harm children’s intelligence development, it said.
HKORC said it collected 45 samples of rice products from wholesalers and retailers in the city between November last year and January this year.
Tests were conducted to determine the levels of eight different heavy metals — namely arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, stibium, mercury, copper, and inorganic arsenic — in the products, which had originated from various places including mainland China, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan..
The samples were then sent to a government-accredited lab to analyze the heavy metals contents.
Revealing the test results on Tuesday, the HKORC said the inorganic arsenic content found in all the tested samples was lower than the upper limit of 1,100 micrograms (a microgram is one millionth of a gram) per kilogram set by the Centre for Food Safety as well as lower than the 200 micrograms limit that the government has proposed to revise down to.
However, 13 samples, or nearly 30 percent of all, were found to contain the metal in levels that exceeded the infant and child intake standard set by the United States and the European Union, which is 100 micrograms per kilogram, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Of them, the one with the highest inorganic arsenic content was Select Organic Jasmine Rice from Thailand, which contained 160 micrograms per kilogram.
The Nishiki Premium Grade Rice from the United States contained 130 micrograms, while two other two edible rice products from Taiwan contained 160 micrograms 140 micrograms per kilogram, respectively.
Professor Jonathan Wong Woon-chung, director of the HKORC, warned that chronic intake of excessive inorganic arsenic by children aged 12 and younger who have a bowl of rice with 160 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per kilogram in it during each of the three meals every day can increase the risks of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and bladder cancer as well as damage the central nervous system.
This will also slow down the development of intelligence, Wong said.
Advising parents to be judicious in their choice of edible rice products, Wong also reminded the public that they should wash the rice and soak it in water for about five minutes before cooking it.
The biology professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University urged the government to set standards for edible rice products specifically for infants and young children.
ParknShop, which offers Select Organic Jasmine Rice on its shelves, claimed the product comes from a reputed supplier and that the rice passed a lab test.
Still, the supermarket chain said the findings in HKORC’s report have caused some concern, prompting the group it to temporarily de-shelve the product pending further lab tests.
The supermarket operator said customers who had bought the products at its stores can return them and get a refund as long as they bring the receipts.
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