A new study by a team of scientists in the United States shows rice imported from certain countries contains high levels of lead that could pose health risks for infants and children,
Scientists analyzed rice imported into the U.S. from Asia, Europe and South America. They say rice samples from Taiwan and China had the highest lead levels.
Overall, the team found lead levels ranging from six to 12 milligrams per kilogram, with some of the highest amounts in baby food.
The lead researcher, Tsanangurayi Tongesayi, says daily exposure by infants and children to the rice products would be 30 to 60 times higher than levels considered tolerable by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He says Asian infants and children are at twice as much risk, because of their higher rice consumption.
The imported rice accounts for only seven percent of all rice consumed in the U.S. However, the study says that due to increasing imports, the rice still found its way into U.S. supermarket chains and restaurants, as well as ethnic specialty markets.
Researchers also found significantly high lead levels in rice samples from the Czech Republic, Bhutan, Italy, India and Thailand.
Analysis of rice from Pakistan, Brazil and other countries is still under way.
The study was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans.
Caroline Smith DeWaal is with the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington. She says rice poses a unique problem as a staple food worldwide.
"Rice is like a sponge for environmental contaminants, like lead or arsenic," said DeWaal. "If it's present in the soil, if it's present in the water where the rice is being grown, those contaminants are easily absorbed into the rice. "