The Multinational Monitor


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Puerto Rico Bans Talc on Rice

The government of Puerto Rico recently banned the sale there of rice which has been coated with a mixture of glucose and talc, after studies revealed the rice coating to be potentially dangerous. The Rice Growers' Association of California, which processes and markets more than half of all rice sold in Puerto Rico, is none too pleased about the decision.

The shiny talc coating, formerly used to help preserve rice during transport, is supposed to be washed off before the rice is cooked. But even traces which remain after washing, according to studies conducted by the Puerto Rico Cancer Institute and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, may increase the risk of stomach cancer. Puerto Rico has the third highest per capita rice consumption rate in the world.

Talc on the rice "makes it flow really well" through packaging machinery, said James Errecarte, Executive Vice President of the Rice Growers' Association of California (RGAC). The Association's plant, Molinos de Puerto, located near San Juan, supplied about 60 percent of the island's market in 1979.

Although the Molinos facility has already been converted for talc-free processing following the Puerto Rican Secretary of Consumer Affairs' March 3 decision, Errecarte said that RGAC was disappointed by the ban. "The Puerto Rican government took an action without any evidence that talc was harmful in any way ...(the talc) doesn't substantially change the product at all," he declared.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not found conclusive evidence that the talc is harmful, although tests have been underway since the early 1970's. Talc-coated rice is sold in New York and California, mainly to Puerto Rican and Japanese consumers, as well as in Puerto Rico. vAn independent study conducted by the Puerto Rico Cancer Institute, whose results were announced in February, found that talc may act as a co-carcinogen when it is ingested along with such substances as benzopyrene, which is found in cigarette smoke, and charcoal-broiled meat. The study also pointed out that intestinal parasites and diseases like chronic gastritis, which are prevalent in Puerto Rico, may increase the stomach's rate of absorption of talc which is ingested.

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