MoH research reveals Cadmium in rice and kurakkan

Research studies conducted by the Ministry of Health using food and blood samples from those in households with patients suffering from the kidney disease within the Anuradhapura District have revealed that considerable quantities of cadmium and lead had been detected especially lead in young children leading to cognitive impairment.
Cadmium and lead are nephrotoxins, chronic exposure to which causes kidney disease.

Food safety experts within the Ministry of Health highlighted that the Government would have to take a major policy decision to design a public health intervention to reduce the burden on patients’ resultant from the consumption of contaminated foods.

In 2015, a report containing data and recommendations had been put forward following a collaborative study done in this regard by the World Health Organization, the Ministry and the National Science Foundation. One of the main concerns raised in the said report was with regard to cadmium and lead in food.

The Ministry subsequently conducted additional research as a follow up to the aforementioned study with the view of confirming or disproving the findings of the abovementioned report. Thus, they had initially obtained food samples from kitchens in households with kidney patients (227), from the said District and tested such for the presence of mainly cadmium and lead, and arsenic too.

Cadmium contamination was found in rice and other staples like kurakkan (finger millet) while in most of the samples, lead was found in both, rice and vegetables, in fairly considerable amounts, exceeding European standards in this regard. Significant amounts of arsenic were not found in the food consumed in the households of kidney patients.
The applicability of European standards in this regard is not entirely correct as rice consumption is extremely high in Sri Lanka whereas the same is not the case in Europe. Therefore, a Sri Lankan standard needs to be adopted in relation to the matter.
Director – Environmental, Occupational Health and Food Safety of the Ministry, Dr. T.B. Ananda Jayalal said that at first glance, they did not believe the results as it pointed towards a fairly serious situation, adding further that they had therefore conducted another study, this time collecting blood samples from the same households to measure the impact of cadmium and lead on the physiology of persons.

Of the 52 or 60 odd samples, in 50% of the cases, considerable quantities of lead had been found (approximately 60%), especially in the samples obtained from young children. In addition to kidney disease, the children’s intellectual capacity, intelligence, problem solving ability and learning ability, would all be adversely impacted as a result.

Chief surveyor of the said food safety analysis project, Dr. Jayalal confirmed that while they were engaged in doing more research in this regard, they were faced with the fact that the research was time consuming and resource constrained (for an example – certain tests cannot be conducted locally). This research requires a lot of resources. “Hopefully, top officials in the Ministry will look at these results and design a good public health intervention which reduces the burden on the patients concerning contamination. This involves a big policy decision that needs to be taken with regard to matters such the agricultural methods used in farming and how much fertilizer to use and put, amongst other such aspects,” he explained.

Elsewhere, the reduction of the use of agrochemicals (pesticides and insecticides), organic farming using carbonic fertilizer, the use of suitable crop variants, the reduction of the consumption of rice for all three meals, and the consumption of meat (sans liver as toxins get deposited in the liver) with one’s diet instead of solely relying on vegetables, were suggested by Dr. Jayalal as remedial measures that could be taken to address the highlighted issues.