A “plastic rice” hoax that has circulated on social media since 2011 has taken hold in the state of Morelos, leading two government agencies to launch investigations into the supposedly false grain despite there being no concrete evidence that such a thing exists.
The rumor claims that fake rice made in China by mixing starches such as potato or sweet potato with plastic is being exported to foreign markets and poses a health risk to consumers.
While it was reported that a shipment of 2.5 tonnes of plastic rice had reached Nigeria in December 2016, subsequent lab tests revealed that high levels of bacteria had contaminated the rice rather than plastic.
Mexico consumes more rice than it produces and therefore buys the grain from several other countries. However, rice is not imported from China.
Still, the Morelos offices of the Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) and Profeco, the federal consumer protection agency, have begun separate investigations and implemented monitoring processes to detect any sign of the fake grain in the state.
“Sagarpa is carrying out a reliable, profound, sustainable and nationally-supported investigation and analysis on the rice that is sold in this state,” confirmed representative Rafael Ambriz Cervantes. Profeco, meanwhile, has completed a revision of all brands sold in Morelos and is ready to respond to any detection of the fake product.
Sagarpa also recommended that people only consume brands of rice grown in Morelos, a large rice producing state.
“Even though they are a little more expensive, they yield more and are very tasty but most importantly we know that it is 100% rice and not polymer like they are supposedly reporting, mainly on social networks.”
Many are quick to dismiss the unfounded claim that plastic rice is a real phenomenon and neither government agency has received any consumer complaint.
However, they did recognize that “low quality rice that falls apart or seems like cotton after cooking” had been discussed on social media.
Luis Bueno Torio, the president of a national rice producers’ association, dismissed outright the possibility that plastic rice is being sold in Mexico and said it was part of a dirty campaign to damage recognized brands.
“It’s a complete lie. We don’t import rice from China, there is no way to import it from China. You have to comply with a protocol to get an import license and nobody has done it. The famous plastic rice is a fallacy. It’s not possible to make it. It would cost more than natural rice.”