Different rice varieties in bowls.
In many countries, where rice is a staple, the rice is parboiled with the husk that contains arsenic taken from the groundwater and the soil.
Photo: Shutterstock

17.05.2019

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Arsenic contamination in rice poses a serious health risk in many parts of the world. Now an international study has shown that husking rice before parboiling reduces arsenic content, potentially lowering the risk of cancer.

Harvested rice grains are traditionally parboiled with the husk on in some countries. But rice husks contain significant amounts of arsenic compounds. In a recent study scientists from Bangladesh and Northern Ireland show that husking rice before parboiling reduces arsenic content, potentially lowering the risk of cancer. The study was published in late April in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

About half of the 700 million tonnes of rice harvested annually across the world is subjected to parboiling. However the traditional method of parboiling does not remove inorganic arsenic, which naturally occurs in groundwater and contaminates the husk, the study shows.

Parboiling husked whole grain, on the other hand, not only reduces arsenic by 25 per cent, but also increases the grain’s calcium content significantly, according to the researchers.
Arsenic is found in two forms: inorganic arsenic and organic arsenic, in which the arsenic atoms remain attached to carbon atoms.

Mahmud Hossain Suman, study co-author and researcher at Bangladesh Agricultural University, Mymensingh, said: “Our aim was to remove inorganic arsenic because it is much more toxic than organic arsenic.”  Arsenic causes cancers of the skin, urinary bladder, kidneys and lungs.

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