Interview: Mighty Rice

Mighty Rice1) A common substitute for people on a gluten-free/wheat-free diet is rice. Why is an increase in the consumption of rice concerning?

An increase in the consumption of rice itself is not concerning; an increase in the consumption of rice with high levels of arsenic and high glycemic index levels could be problematic. There are healthier alternatives such as Mighty Rice, which has been tested by Dartmouth to have undetectable levels of arsenic (< 2ppb) and has been certified as having a low glycemic index of 48 by the University of Sydney.

2) What is your take on the environmental implications of the increasing tendency toward a gluten-free/wheat-free diet, given that a common substitution for wheat is rice?

Production of any commodity should be underpinned by negating the stress it creates on scarce natural resources. Sustainability and rice production need to exist symbiotically by endeavoring to reduce its environmental footprint. There have been many innovations to help reduce the need for pesticides and water requirements in the production of rice. However, these need to be measured against the environment in which they are produced.

Mauritius provides an environmentally sustainable canvas as the island’s sub-tropical climate allows for production of rice without the need to flood irrigate. Mauritius is free of the vast majority of insect pests prevalent in many countries. This allows Mauritian rice to be produced without the reliance on conventional insecticides.

3) Why is Mighty Rice grown on dry soil when most rice is grown in flooded fields?

Unlike most rice in the world, Mighty Rice is grown on dry land, depending on rainfall for irrigation. Conventional rice farming with flooded irrigation consumes a high amount of water. It takes about 600 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of rice. This high water usage in flood irrigated rice production is unsustainable and the decomposition of plant matter in flooded fields is a major source of methane emission.

Additionally, studies have shown that growing rice with less water reduces arsenic uptake.

4) How did the founders of Mighty Rice develop a rice variety that had a naturally low glycemic index? Why was it important to them to develop a rice that was safe for diabetics to consume?

Rice contains two types of starch: amylose and amylopectin. Rice varieties with a high amylose content raise blood glucose less than rice with high amylopectin content. In other words, rice that is high in amylose has a lower glycemic index. This is because amylose is harder to break down and ensures a sustained release of sugar into the blood without spiking immediately after a meal. Mighty Rice was developed naturally through cross-pollinating rice varieties with high amylose with varieties that had the ability to grow in dry soil.

Diabetes has become a global epidemic, affecting 1 in 12 adults. In fact, Mauritius, where Mighty Rice is being grown, has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. Rice is the staple diet for most Mauritians, and it was important for the founders of Mighty Rice to develop a low glycemic index rice variety that could be safely consumed by diabetics as well as help reduce the likelihood of consumers developing Type 2 diabetes.

5) How can the land on which Mighty Rice is grown remain devoid of arsenic?

The land Mighty Rice is grown on has never grown rice in the past. Minimal to no arsenic pesticides were ever used on the land. Land contaminated with inorganic arsenic is due to the use of arsenate pesticides in the past, most of which are currently illegal. For example, arsenate pesticides were only officially banned in the United States in the 1980s. Studies indicate that a major source of inorganic arsenic in rice from the American southeast is from pesticide residues, seeping from lands once used to raise cotton.

Mauritius has strict standards over what chemicals are allowed in the country, and we would not put anything in the soil that would result in arsenic contamination. For example, to date we have not been able to source organic fertilizer such as poultry manure, which meets our standards as a large proportion of the poultry industry worldwide still utilizes arsenic-based drugs to control gut parasites and to promote growth.

6) Does Mighty Rice intend to expand in the future to developing products made from their rice?

We are in the process of developing a range of products such as flour and rice cakes. We are actively talking with and seeking potential partners who are interested in using Mighty Rice as an ingredient in their products.

7) If the brand were to expand rapidly over the next few years as concern spreads about arsenic levels in rice, are there parts of the world other than Mauritius where Mighty Rice could potentially be grown?

Definitely; however, any potential farmland would have to meet stringent criteria in terms of adequacy of rainfall for our dry land rice and the level of inorganic arsenic present in the soil due to past farming practices.

8) Has the establishment of Mighty Rice in Mauritius noticeably affected the economy in Madagascar in some way? 

No, the amount of Mighty Rice currently being grown in Mauritius is too small to have any impact on Madagascar, but it has positively affected the economy in Mauritius. It has resulted in the creation of a new agro-industry, generated employment for local farmers and increased awareness for the island itself.

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