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Plastic rice? Traders say there’s no such thing

Updated June 23, 2017

KARACHI: Rice exporters and traders have ruled out there’s any such thing as “plastic rice” or rice mixed with plastic, after videos doing the rounds on social media asserted that plastic rice was being manufactured on a large scale in some countries and was smuggled into Pakistan as well.

Besides, the market is abuzz with reports that a person complained about purchasing rice from a leading superstore in Karachi and later claimed that it was plastic rice.

Rice is a staple in Pakistan. It is the third-largest crop after wheat and cotton in the country, and is grown over 10 per cent of the total cropped area, according to the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP).

“There’s no such thing as plastic rice,” said Jawed Ali Ghori, a former chairman of REAP. “Plastic is costlier than rice. How can it be mixed with rice? Or how can plastic rice be consumed by humans as it will cause death?”

Mr Ghori said there should be no concern as Pakistanis ate only locally produced rice and the commodity was not imported. “Instead, China imports Basmati 86 rice and other varieties from Pakistan,” he said.

He said the government of Dubai has tested various qualities of rice arriving in the emirate and have found them fit for human consumption.

Another former chairman of REAP, Mohammad Rahim Janoo, said an “international mafia” was trying to destroy the rice trade. He said raids were conducted in some stores in Kenya and Nigeria on reports of the sale of plastic rice, but the authorities did not find anything.

Moreover, making rice from plastic was not feasible, he said. For instance, the export price of Irri-6 rice is $400-450 a tonne while raw plastic price is $850-900 a tonne.

The chairman of Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association, Ehteshamuddin, said plastic moulding compound (PMC) was costlier than rice and therefore nobody could mix plastic in rice or make plastic rice.

Giving an example, he said the average price of PMC was Rs75 a pound and it cost Rs165 a kilogram.

After processing, its price swells to Rs200 per kg. In contrast, the price of different varieties of rice hovers between Rs40 and Rs140 per kg. Another high-quality PMC carries the price of Rs125 per pound.

Pakistan imports 80-90pc of PMC from the Far East and the Middle East for making plastic products like household items, chairs and car bumpers.

The chairman of Karachi Wholesalers Grocers Association, Anis Majeed, said there have been no reports so far of any smuggling or illegal arrival of plastic rice into Pakistan from any country.

The videos shared on the social media show that plastic rice is highly sticky and take a round or oval ball shape in hand before eating.

He said the new variety of any rice usually has stickiness, and Chinese were particularly fond of Pakistani basmati 86 and Irri rice from new crop.

Pakistan exported 409,669 tonnes of basmati rice in July-May fetching $383 million as compared to 439,662 tonnes ($407.7m) in the same period of last year, according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

Exports of other rice varieties fell to 2.89m tonnes ($1bn) during the same period as against 3.49m tonnes ($1.31bn) a year ago.

During the preceding fiscal year, rice was sowed on 2,724,000 hectares, almost the same area as compared with a year earlier. Rice production in 2016-17 stood at 6,849,000 tonnes, which was both higher than the year’s target and previous year’s production.

Rice area decreased due to decline in domestic prices of rice and growers shifted to sugarcane and maize crop.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2017