Arsenic Suit Seeks To Pit Arkansas Chicken and Rice Sectors Against Each Another

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 12:00 am  

In the aftermath of publicity about Consumer Reports’ findings, U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., sent letters asking eight companies that sell rice and rice products for documents regarding the levels of arsenic in rice and the companies’ monitoring efforts.

In a separate move, U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct., Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to limit the amount of arsenic allowed in rice and rice-based products.

Cash Receipts from Arkansas Farm Marketing:
Top five commodities, 2010

CommodityValue of Ark. Receipts for Commodity*Percent of Ark. Total Cash Receipts
Broilers $2,861,875 37%
Rice $1,231,118 16%
Soybeans $1,174,664 15%
Cattle and Calves $614,249 8%
Cotton $425,631 6%

*Values in thousands of dollars

The Question of Sources

Marvin Childers, president of the Arkansas Poultry Federation, had harsh criticism for the class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of rice producers John Alter and Kenneth Graves, both of Arkansas County, and Mark and Joyce Hargrove of DeWitt. Childers expressed doubt that poultry litter could be conclusively linked to arsenic in rice.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that rice grown in Arkansas is contaminated with high levels of arsenic from any source,” he said. “However, if rice grown in Arkansas were confirmed to have high levels of arsenic, it’s my opinion that there are much more plausible explanations for that other than poultry litter.

“Soils and groundwater naturally contain arsenic, as do many products regularly used in the farming practices in east Arkansas. Commercially produced phosphate fertilizers are known to contain trace amounts of arsenic, as do various herbicides and pesticides.

“And to suggest that arsenic from poultry litter has contaminated the rice crops in Arkansas without evaluating the role of naturally occurring arsenic or commercial fertilizers or herbicides and pesticides is just irresponsible.”

For his part, plaintiffs’ attorney Powell said he didn’t think the arsenic contamination of his clients’ fields could be traced to anything other than chicken litter.

The whole issue of arsenic “is particularly troubling for rice farming in Arkansas and everywhere else, coming on the heels of the GMO contamination,” Powell said. “They’re trying to work themselves out of that mess.”



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