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Guidelines on arsenic level in rice will benefit India; US to exit world rice trade of 40 Million Tons

The UN food standards body the Codex Alimentarius Commission earlier this week adopted new standards to protect consumer health worldwide, including setting out maximum acceptable levels of lead in infant formula (less than 0.01 mg/kg) and of arsenic (less than 0.2 mg/kg) in rice. The newly adopted global norms by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) for rice exports are likely to benefit India the most.


Going by the Codex standard, the United States will not be able to export rice at all due to having more than the permissible level of arsenic.

Rice produced in the United States contains more than 0.3 mg/kg of arsenic as against less than 0.2 mg/kg in India. Therefore, there will be a natural exit for the United States from the global rice market. This evacuated space may benefit India of the 40.7 million tonnes of rice trade estimated globally in 2014, the United States contributes 2.7 million tonnes, the country's total surplus out of over 7.5 million tonnes of annual output.
The United States was lobbying with the FAO for rejecting the implementation of the Codex norms. But, thankfully, the FAO accepted the norms which will eliminate the United States from the rice export market.

The data compiled by the Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) showed India exported around 11 million tonnes of rice in the financial year 2013-14, of which the basmati variety constituted 3.76 million tonnes while non-basmati variety contributed the rest (7.13 million tonnes).

Rice exports from India have steadily increased in the last three years. While shipments of basmati rice moved up marginally, exports of non-basmati rice almost doubled in the last three years to 7.13 million tonnes in 2013-14 to 3.99 million tonnes in 2011-12. In terms of realisations, too, India has witnessed an over 100 per cent increase in both basmati and non-basmati rice.

The FAO was apprehensive about excessive content of arsenic in rice. Long-term exposure to arsenic can cause cancer and skin problems. It has also been associated with developmental effects, heart disease, diabetes, and damage to the nervous system and brain. Arsenic is naturally present in high levels in the groundwater and soil in many parts of the world. The element can enter the food chain when it is absorbed by crops from water and soil.

Rice, in particular, can take up more arsenic than other crops and as a staple food for millions of people can contribute significantly to arsenic exposure, which is detrimental to human health. Arsenic contamination in rice is of particular concern in some Asian countries where paddy fields are irrigated with groundwater containing arsenic-rich sediments pumped from shallow tube wells. Improved irrigation and agricultural practices can help reduce arsenic contamination, for example growing crops in raised beds instead of flooded fields.

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