17.5 million people worldwide with celiac disease could patronize organic PHL rice

AGRICULTURE Secretary Proceso J. Alcala has expressed amazement that one specific niche market for organic Philippine rice is at least 1 percent of all Caucasians on the planet who are afflicted with celiac disease.

Told about the possibility that the organic and heirloom rice varieties grown in the Cordillera, Lake Sebu in South Cotabato and the Maragusan Valley in Compostela Valley could very well compete for this market, Alcala told theBusinessMirror during the closing ceremonies of the International Year of Family Farming on November 27 “that I never knew there was such a market.”

He ordered his aides to do research on how Philippine organic rice could compete in the market for celiac-disease sufferers.

People afflicted with celiac disease cannot eat wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a wheat-rye cross) with gluten, a type of protein.

They cannot consume bread and any other type of food with wheat, barley and rye, and are condemned to eat rice in perpetuity.

One percent of the entire global Caucasian population of 1.5 billion people is affected with celiac-disease and this means a potential market of 17.5 million people for organic Philippine rice.

Alcala said he will explore the idea of catering to celiac-disease sufferers, whose intestinal lining bars the absorption of nutrients once gluten is detected.

The advantage of Philippine organic rice is that it does not use pesticides under a strict organic protocol, thus reducing arsenic contamination.

Alcala stressed that on a per-capita basis, Filipino farmers use less chemicals in their palay stands.

If Filipino rice producers can maintain the strict quality standards of their grain and assure niche market that its has no arsenic, then Philippine rice could compete well against other varieties from Spain that are now catering to celiac-disease sufferers.

However, celiac-disease sufferers are also sensitive to arsenic, which is produced when pesticides are liberally sprayed on rice stands and are absorbed by irrigation water.

One advantage of organic rice is that it contains practically no arsenic, while commercially grown US rice has triple the arsenic level of the rice grown in India.

Alcala also learned that celiac disease can lead to anemia andosteoporosis, and even intensify the risks of developing lymphoma.

However, the bigger threat is on children, whose growth will be stunted as their bones become weaker.

The other symptoms of celiac disease are gas and bloating, changes in bowel movements, weight loss and weakness.

Early in October 2014, the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology reported that researchers from the Miguel Hernandez University of Elche, Spain, found out that flour, cakes, bread, pasta, beer and milk, and other food items made with rice contained high concentrations of arsenic.

This compounds the problems of celiac-disease sufferers since they could be hit by arsenic poisoning that can cause headaches, blood in the urine, coma and even death.

The results of the analyses published in the journal Food Additives & Contaminants, warn that some of these products contain “important contents” of total arsenic (As-t, up to 120 µg/kilogram) and inorganic arsenic (As-i, up to 85.8 µg/kg).

“Total arsenic is the sum of the organic arsenic, which is combined with carbon, and inorganic arsenic, which reacts with other elements such as oxygen, chlorine and sulphur and is more harmful,” the study said. -by Marvyn N. Benaning

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