Arsenic scare angers local rice farmers

TUCKERMAN, AR (KAIT) - Consumer Reports say rice and rice products may contain worrisome levels arsenic--a chemical known to cause cancer.

However, an average serving of rice only contains 5 micrograms of inorganic arsenic. That's equal to two grains of sand, which is relatively low when compared to other foods. Regardless, the warning is devastating to a region so dependent on rice production.

"This is a big thing to us. Very big. And for news like this to hit, it's devastating. And it'll effect the markets like it's doing. It's just not good at all." Over one 100,000 acres of rice is farmed in Jackson County alone, and rice farmer Gus Graham III, is one of several rice farmers who depend heavily upon this year's crops.

Prices were down 15 cents per bushel early Wednesday, but rebounded during the afternoon with a 17.5 cent gain per bushel for November and January contracts.

This arsenic scare could keep the markets suppressed until next year--perhaps longer than that.

"These guys are going to have to keep their grains in the grain bin longer trying to hope that this scare blows over and it goes on back up," explained Graham.

Doctor Shane Speights with St. Bernards Hospital says there are no acute risks linked with rice consumption in the U.S. He adds that arsenic is found in a wide variety of foods, and a dose of perspective may be needed.

"Remember, arsenic is naturally-occurring. We find it throughout. And so, obviously, as with anything, you don't want too much of something and you don't want too little of something. But we really need to wait for the data to go through and tease out, are these really concerning levels or not."

Doctor Speights says the numbers may appear be staggering, but it is possible to have an arsenic deficiency, as Arsenic is considered an "ultra-trace" supplement.

"A preliminary article comes out, and then a knee-jerk response is made, and it can really devastate or affect an industry like that, unnecessarily."