Rice companies in China have been exposed for exporting plastic rice.
This phenomenon began because of the ever-increasing demand for Wuchang rice, a fragrant variety known to cost twice as much as other rice. To increase their profits, farmers have begun producing illegal fake rice.
Made from a combination of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and synthetic resins (plastic), this variety of “rice” costs very little to produce.
The synthetic grains are formed to look like real rice and sprayed with an artificial fragrance to make them more appealing. The plastic rice doesn’t cook, instead remaining hard after cooking. To hide this fact from consumers, distributors of rice grown in the Wuchang province mix it with the real stuff.
It’s estimated that 800,000 tons of rice are grown in the paddies of Wuchang, yet annual sales of Wuchang “rice” has been at 10 million tons. That’s a lotta plastic (1).
Rice is More Than Just a Food
For many people around the world, rice is an essential part of daily life. The typical person in China eats half a pound of rice each day.
China is the largest consumer and producer of rice in the world (2, 3). It is 11th in the world for rice exports, its largest foreign markets in India, Vietnam, and Singapore (4).
The Times of India reported last year that the Delhi high court had scheduled a hearing in November concerning a plea for direct sampling of rice imported from China (5). In the Philippines, the National Food Authority has also initiated an investigation of synthetic rice originating from China.
Eating 3 bowls of fake Wuchang rice is roughly equivalent to eating 1 plastic bag (6). The ingestion of plastic is incredibly dangerous, potentially causing a multitude of problems throughout the digestive system.
Much of the resin is eliminated through the digestive tract but the body’s cells are permeable and the risk of poisoning from known carcinogens BPA and phthalates in plastic is very real. Both of the chemicals found in plastics are hormone disruptors, affecting testosterone levels and reproductive development.
How to Avoid Plastic Rice
There are 2 simple tests you can do at home to determine if your rice contains plastic. When in doubt, stick to non-GMO or organic rice grown in North America.
- Heat rice on the stove (with all the doors and windows open!) or grill until it burns. Real rice will char and burn, plastic will melt. You will be able to see (and smell) the difference.
- Similar to direct heating, cook rice in very hot oil (use an oil with a high smoking point); plastic will melt, rice will cook and burn.
Fool me once…
Selling plastic rice to unsuspecting consumers is not the first hazardous scam to come out of China. Meat from undesirable animals is frequently sold as lamb, pork, beef or chicken.
Additionally, an illegal meat additive called clenbuterol, a steroid, is still sometimes fed to pork to make the meat leaner. (7,8). The substance was banned for use in livestock in 2002 because of its dangers to human and animal health (9).
In perhaps the most shocking discovery to come out of this trend, a scandal erupted in China over contaminated milk powder that contained melamine and ended up killing newborns (10).
Wuchang rice is not currently being exported to North America, however, if the situation changes and you see it on your grocery store shelf, we have one piece of advice: don’t buy it.