A recent study by a team of scientists from Makerere University has revealed that rice sold in Kampala shops may pose a potential health risk due to elevated levels of arsenic, a toxic heavy metal with potential cancer-causing effects.
The research focused on various rice brands in the market and found that specific Ugandan rice varieties had slightly higher arsenic levels, suggesting soil and water contamination.
Unlike similar studies in Nigeria, the rice brands in Kampala showed significantly higher arsenic levels, raising concerns about long-term health consequences for the population.
The research, led by Lawrence Fred Sembajwe from the Department of Medical Physiology at the College of Health Sciences, involved the collection of multiple rice brands from supermarkets and grocery stores in Kampala.
The researchers used atomic absorption spectrometry to assess the arsenic content in these rice samples.
The findings raised alarms, as some rice brands exhibited arsenic levels surpassing those of other rice varieties in the market.
The results have triggered concerns about the potential poisoning and health complications associated with continued consumption of rice containing high levels of arsenic.
As rice is a staple food in Uganda and consumed daily by many, the prevalence of high arsenic levels in this dietary staple is a cause for worry. The research’s aim is to urge government and relevant authorities to take prompt action to prevent the adverse health effects of arsenic exposure in the population.
Moreover, the study highlights the significance of broader monitoring of heavy metals like cadmium, Mercury, and Lead, as they too present a significant threat to human health when they infiltrate water sources and food.
The researchers also observed a growing trend in rice production and consumption in Africa, with only 54% of consumption being satisfied domestically, and the remainder reliant on imported rice.
The process of rice production includes various stages, beginning with farming and harvesting paddy rice. It then undergoes cleaning, husking, and polishing before being distributed to traders and consumers.
Arsenic contamination in rice is most likely to occur during farming due to environmental exposure.
Furthermore, the study sheds light on the importance of taking steps to ensure the safety of genetically modified rice varieties introduced in Uganda to enhance production, particularly in terms of arsenic accumulation.
Arsenic contamination primarily stems from geological sources and industrial pollution, including additives in pesticides, herbicides, cosmetics, and herbal remedies that can taint water bodies.
When contaminated water is employed for crop irrigation, it introduces arsenic into the food chain, posing potential harm to humans and animals.
To safeguard against arsenic toxicity, supervisory bodies like the World Health Organisation (WHO) establish acceptable levels of arsenic in food and water.
Arsenic poisoning can result from direct consumption of high doses or chronic exposure through food, water, inhalation, or skin contact.
The study points out that food preparation methods can reduce arsenic levels in rice but may lead to nutrient loss. Proper storage, handling, and preparation of rice are important factors to consider.
The research urges Ugandan food and water safety regulatory authorities to routinely monitor arsenic levels in rice and water used for food preparation, promoting public awareness about the potential risks associated with elevated arsenic levels in rice.
This study serves as a wake-up call for Ugandan authorities to prioritize routine monitoring to ensure the safety of rice and water sources, ultimately creating a safer and healthier future for the residents of Kampala and beyond.
The researchers strongly recommend consistent monitoring of arsenic levels in rice and water sources to minimize potential health risks.