Heavy metals such as cadmium and lead are present in soil and known to be absorbed into growing crops such as rice. The potential presence of such contaminants is strictly regulated under European law and carefully monitored by national health authorities. Assessment by the European Food Safety Authority in 2010 found extremely low levels of lead in rice, with no sample exceeding established limits.

The possible presence of lead in rice came to the media’s attention in 2013 following a press release issued by the American Chemical Society reporting findings of ‘harmful levels’ of lead in rice. This report surprised the toxicologists in the field, as there was no other published evidence of rice containing the levels of lead of the same order of magnitude as that reported in the press release. The veracity of the results, unrepeatable by the scientists, pointed to an error in testing and the paper was ultimately withdrawn.

The potential presence of cadmium in rice came to public attention in 2013 due to reports of high levels of cadmium found in rice in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou attributed to the growing number of factories and mines in Hunan Province, where the rice is grown. In Europe, which does not source rice in significant quantities from China, a legal limit of 0.2mg/kg has been established (less than half the levels reported in China). The presence of heavy metals in rice is well-known and closely controlled by the rice sector. Findings of levels in excess of the EU limit on the European market are extremely rare and any products above this limit must be removed from the market. The last reported finding of excessive cadmium in rice product in Europe dates back to 2009.