The latest worry in the food supply: lead in imported rice. Recent findings by Dr. Tsanangurayi Tongesayi and colleagues at Monmouth University found levels ranging from 6-12 mg/kg in rice imported to the US from Czech Republic, Bhutan, Italy, India, Thailand, with Taiwan and China containing the highest levels of lead.
The Codex Alimentarius from the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommends no more than 0.025 mg/kg of body weight (this is based on weekly intake). These limits are especially important for infants (and babies in utero) as they are most susceptible to obvious negative effects from consumption of lead. Even very low levels of lead exposure can be detrimental to intellectual development, growth, behaviour, and hearing.
These findings provide increased incentive for mothers introducing solids to provide other sources of iron-rich foods (such as eggs, meat, legumes, and tofu) than iron-fortified rice cereal if the source of the rice is unknown. They also provide additional support for the message that us dietitians are always pushing: variety is an essential component of a healthy diet. As many people turn to a gluten-free diet they are likely to be consuming increased quantities of rice and rice-based products. Excess lead or not, excessive reliance on one type of grain is not a good foundation for a healthy diet.