Chris Elliot, a Food Safety professor at the Queens University Belfast was recently interviewed about the development in the Indian rice sector. Rumors were swirling around that the Indian Government was going to take steps to curb food inflation in the country, with shortages of staples such as tomatoes, onions, and rice fueling hyperinflation in the food sector.
Elliot acknowledged that while the war in Ukraine had a hand in the shortages, the number one problem seems to have been caused by climate change. Excessive rain and flooding in many parts of India ruined numerous harvests.
Seemingly, the Indian Government is less worried about the shortages than the price rises. This is because elections in India are looming, and the rampant food inflation is not good for the hopes of the current ruling administration.
India is the world’s largest exporter of rice. The Indian Government banned the export of non-basmati rice varieties, which accounts for around 25% of the rice exports. The ban will have devastating effects on several regions in the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa which imports most of its rice from India.
According to Elliott, many countries will struggle to compete in the international markets for any available rice as prices will increase markedly. Moreover, the flooding in China is set to add to the problems as it has further damaged rice harvests. Elliott has been told that “China is scouring the world for rice current and is ‘hovering everything up in sight.'”
In the UK where Elliott resides, most of the rice imported from India is Basmati. The region also imports a lot of non-Basmati for a wide variety of purposes. While Elliott doesn’t expect to see any major shortages in supply, sharp increases in prices are almost certain. He also mentioned that he has been picking up some rice supply issues in the UK, citing the massive flooding in Pakistan that devastated harvests as a big factor. Additionally, he stated that some of the rice being imported was much lower than normal.
Elliott found evidence in two areas, the first being the amount of broken rice in some products being higher than usual. Broken rice is produced by issues during processing and sells for a fraction of the price of whole rice. According to their data, up to 10% of broken rice was present in some cases where buyers should expect very little broken rice in their purchase. The pesticide levels were also alarming as they were above the regulatory limits and some were not even legal to be used in the UK.
Elliott reported his findings to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the UK Rice Association, as well as the companies where the issues were found. However, based on the latest tests, the issues remain and are getting worse. Elliott stated, “With the latest announcement from the Indian Government, I worry greatly about what will be imported into the UK over the coming months. Clearly, the FSA, the rice industry, and the wider food industry must step up their vigilance to stop any shady practices continuing which will undermine consumer confidence.”
He added, “If we think food inflation is a thing of the past and soon things will return to normal, then we must think again. The looming specter of climate change will mean we will continue to face ongoing issues with supply, price, and safety of many imported foods. It is surely time that our government opens its eyes to the massive food security issues we will face and start to take some very long overdue action.”