Polluted American rice: “Long-term consequences for Haitians, major consumers”

Nearly 90% of the rice consumed in Haiti comes from the United States.

However, it contains heavy metals, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan, carried out in partnership with Haitian agricultural organizations.

A worrying situation, when we know that rice is a staple food for Haitians.

Interview with Jackie Goodrich, toxicologist and researcher at the University of Michigan.

A woman washes rice before cooking it next to a house destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Jérémie, Haiti, November 3, 2016. © Andres Martinez Casares / Reuters

By: Marine de La Moissonnière Follow


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RFI: The World Health Organization reminds us

: arsenic is naturally present in high concentrations in groundwater in many countries.

Including where rice is grown.

To carry out this study, you compared the levels of arsenic and cadmium present in samples of rice imported from the United States to those of samples of rice produced in Haiti.

What results did you achieve?

Jackie Goodrich:

 We suspected that we would find differences, but what shocked us was

the magnitude of these differences


Imported rice is on average twice as contaminated with arsenic and cadmium as locally produced rice.

The arsenic level in certain samples exceeds authorized standards.

This is not the case for everyone.

But given the amount of rice that people consume in Haiti, we said that the impact of arsenic would be significant for people who consume almost only imported rice.

This rice is the same one that we Americans eat.

But for us this is not a problem, because we eat a lot of other foods as well.

We don't eat 600 grams of rice a day.

But for many Haitians, rice is an essential staple food.

If they continue to eat like this, in the long term, it could have consequences on their health.

From a health point of view, but also economically, it would be much better if they grew, sold and consumed food produced at home.

You were talking about the effects on the health of Haitians.

What are they ?

At these levels, arsenic has no immediate effect.

But in the long term, if you consume arsenic every day, whether in water or food, it can cause cancers like lung cancer, skin cancer, bladder cancer or diabetes. .

Children exposed to arsenic very early in life can suffer from developmental delays, particularly neurological ones, or growth problems.

We made estimates for children under five, taking into account their weight and the amount of rice they eat per day.

A child who eats around 200 grams of rice per day ingests a dose of arsenic higher than authorized health standards.

A rate beyond which the child can eventually develop skin problems or even cancer.

As you said, rice is a staple food in Haiti.

How do you explain it?

It has not always been the case.

But in the 1980s there were policy changes.

The United States began subsidizing rice production and exports.

Much of this rice was exported to Haiti which became one of the largest markets in the United States.

As this rice was subsidized, it was sold at a very low price in Haiti.

This is why it replaced many other locally produced foods that cost more.

Also read: Haiti faces a food crisis which “arises mainly from armed gang violence”

One of your recommendations is to increase local rice production...

Yes, I was pleasantly surprised to find that arsenic levels were so low in Haitian rice.

This means that in the region where it is grown, there is naturally not a lot of arsenic.

It would be great if production could increase.

But this requires a lot of work, the support of the populations, and also that of the government.

It's difficult at the moment given the situation in Haiti.

In the meantime, there are cooking methods that can reduce the amount of arsenic in rice.

You have to cook it as if it were pasta, with lots of water.

Four volumes of water for one volume of rice.

Then you boil it for five minutes and pour out that water.

Then you add clean water and finish cooking normally.

Another solution, although I know it is not possible for

many families

, would be to consume less rice.

If you eat rice three times a day, if you replace even one of these meals with another locally produced food, over time you will considerably limit the effects of arsenic on your body.

You also call for better regulations on food safety...

Yes, we would really like our study to improve American regulations, to think more about what we export, where and in what quantity.

It would be good if we better checked the levels of arsenic in our rice before exporting it, but above all, if we exported other types of food.

And it would be good if Haiti also took up this problem.

But it requires a lot of resources for a State to verify the quality of all the food produced locally and that imported.

I hope this will be possible in the future.

For now, it is our responsibility as exporting countries to be careful about what we export and send better quality products.


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  • Haiti

  • Health and medicine

  • Food

  • Pollution