Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast say they have discovered a simple solution to the global problem of worryingly high levels of toxic arsenic in rice.
Bladder and lung cancer are two of the serious health problems that have been associated with over consumption of arsenic.
Children and babies are thought to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of arsenic as their bodies are developing and relative to adults, they eat three times as much rice.
According to the European Food Standards Agency, people who eat a lot of rice, as is the case in the developing world where rice is a staple food, are exposed to worrying concentrations.
Andy Meharg, Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences at Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security highlighted the health risks linked to arsenic.
“Chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause a range of health problems including developmental problems, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system damage.
“However, most worrying are lung and bladder cancers.”
Typically, rice has 10 times more inorganic arsenic than other foods according to the researchers.
Due to the flooded conditions rice is grown in, the crop can absorb inorganic arsenic that is found in soil minerals.
However, experts at Queen’s have discovered that an ordinary, store-bought coffee percolator can remove up to 85 per cent of the arsenic, across a range of different brands and types of rice.
Speaking about the results, published in the PLOS ONE journal, Professor Meharg said it was “a very significant breakthrough” and offers “an immediate solution” to the problem.
Queen’s is now seeking to patent a bespoke rice cooker with the percolation technology built in, meaning consumers around the world would be able to reduce their exposure to arsenic.
Professor Meharg believes the discovery will change lives and paid tribute to the research team.
“This new breakthrough is the latest example of the commitment of researchers at Queen’s to changing lives and advancing knowledge that will have a lasting impact around the globe.”