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Arkansas Protects Rice Identity

by Lauren Merlene

Last month, Gov. Asa Hutchinson approved a resolution to establish an identity for rice in an effort, he says, to protect consumers. The resolution identifies rice as originating from the Oryza sativa L. plant and distinguishes this from the commonly used term.

The Arkansas Rice Federation is currently partnering with the USA Rice Federation, who has requested the FDA to pursue enforcing the food identity of rice.

“Though most consumers would not identify rice by its scientific name, we feel that the common understanding of rice is that it is a grain, not a shape,” said Lauren Waldrip Ward, the executive director of the Arkansas Rice Federation.

The misuse of this term can be misleading for consumers wanting to purchase authentic rice, according to Ward.

“Arkansas knows that consumers will go to the grocery store and have intentions on buying rice and get confused on something that says rice on the label but actually does not contain a single grain of rice,” Ward said. “We do not want them to be looking to buy rice and then be confused on something that is not actually what they think.”

Several companies have participated in aggressive advertising and promotions that have been creating a degree of consumer confusion, according to Ward.

“We are seeing ads with language reading ‘Move over, rice.’ or ‘Reimagine your rice,’” Ward said. “Our farmers have spent generations building a brand of quality associated with the rice they produce. In Arkansas alone, we have over 2,300 rice farms operated by families we know by name, so reimagining this local industry is unacceptable. Consumers have a right to know honestly and transparently what they are purchasing.”

The federation is working at the federal level with the FDA to establish this standard of identity, according to Ward.

“Right now, CODEX has defined rice, and we would agree with that definition. So, we are currently trying to outline what that standard of identity will look like and why it’s important,” Ward said.

Sen. Blake Johnson (R-Corning), a sponsor of this resolution, said the first step for now is trying to correctly label those products that are misusing the term.

“It is a matter of commerce, so federal delegation really has to step up and do that. That is why it was done in the resolution on a state level,” Johnson said. “It was just protecting the identity of a grain because we are one of the largest rice producing states.”

Johnson said that this mislabeling is an issue because other products have different health benefits.

 “Rice can be a stable part of your diet, and these other products do not have the same kind of nutritional values. We just do not want it to be mislabeled,” Johnson said.

Many of the Arkansas Rice Federation’s efforts are to raise awareness about the issue and educate consumers, according to Ward.

“The Arkansas General Assembly’s adoption of SCR1 does that and also supports our efforts at the Federal level as well as any future regulatory efforts at the state level,” Ward said.

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