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Arsenic and Baby Bonnets

Wednesday, 21 July 2021, Universität, Forschen

Chemists at the University of Graz reduce toxins in children's food made from rice

Only the best for our children. Nutritious rice flakes, tasty rice waffles. But what can we do if the grains used are not just unhealthy but laden with arsenic? Chemists at the University of Graz have now found a method to lower the concentration of arsenic in rice grains: granulated iron added to the soil reduces the metalloid enormously.

The chemical element plays a deadly role in the Hollywood classic “Arsenic and Old Lace” or in many an Agatha Christie flick. Jörg Feldmann, environmental chemist at the University of Graz, also has the instincts of a detective. Poisonous substances in living beings and food are his specialty. The researcher and his colleagues laid the foundations for the European Union to have a legally stipulated maximum limit value for arsenic in rice since 2016. Even stricter regulations apply for young children. The result: “Due to the low limit, high-quality raw materials are in high demand, especially for baby food, but they are difficult to find,” says Feldmann.
Scientists from the University of Graz, the University of Aberdeen (UK) and the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Malawi) have turned to this problem and deliberated ways of reducing the toxic substance in one of the world's most important foods.
Research shows that, among other things, the cultivation method determines the occurrence of toxic arsenic. “When you flood a rice paddy, water in the soil changes the chemical formula of the compound,” explains Feldmann. “Arsenate turns into arsenite, which the plant absorbs differently and preferentially on agricultural land and this is stored in the grain.”
In the course of a comprehensive study in Malawi (Southeast Africa), the chemists attempted to influence this process. They enriched the irrigated arable land prepared for the Kilombero and Faya rice varieties, with granulated iron filings. Feldmann: “We found that arsenic reacts with iron.”
As a result, the concentration of the pollutant metalloid could be reduced by 80 percent. Furthermore, as a positive side effect, the level of cadmium, which is just as toxic, could also decreased by a third – and this without any losses for the harvest, as the researcher notes.
Future projects now aim to examine both the large-scale cultivation and the application for other rice varieties.

Jörg Feldmann sees no reason to ban rice from the menu in general, as this issue concerns inorganic arsenic only, which is strictly regulated in the EU. In addition, the concentration depends on many factors such as the type of grain, the cultivation region and the method of peeling.

The article was recently published online in the journal Science of The Total Environment.

Tamara Favaro

Dr. Tamara Favaro is an Ernst Mach-worldwide fellow at the University of Graz, where she conducts a research project on “Fostering LECs through Innovation in Law & Technology: the cases of Italy and Austria”. The aim is to analyze how new technologies, like blockchains, might allow local governments and Local Energy Communities (LECs) in promoting the so-called Clean Energy Transition.

Tamara is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in “Key Digital Technologies and Markets Regulation” at the University of Pisa, Department of Law. At the same University, she currently teaches as an adjunct lecturer “Regulatory Law” (Diritto della Regolamentazione) in the Master’s Degree course in Innovation Law for Business and Institutions, and “Regulation of Public Services” (Diritto della regolazione dei servizi pubblici) at the LLM in Economic Law and Public Management. She is a Research Associate at the University College London Centre for Blockchain Technologies (UCL CBT) and also a member of the Steering Committee of the Blockchains and Artificial intelligence for Business, Economics and Law (BABEL) Research Unit, established in the Department of Economics and Management (aka DiSEI) at the University of Florence. She is a member of the Jean Monnet Module European Health Law and Technology academic staff, funded in 2020 by the European Commission.

Tamara collaborates with the Interdepartmental Research Centre on Law and Technologies, “Diritto e Tecnologie di Frontiera”, based in Pisa, and she is a co-founder of “Legal Hackers Pisa”.

She holds a Ph.D. in Economic Law from the University of Pisa, with a dissertation on technological and legal innovation in the regulation of the «Energy Transition». Previously, she earned a five-year Master’s degree in Law (summa cum laude) from the University of Pisa, by discussing a thesis on ex-ante Regulation and Antitrust Policy in the Digital marketplace.

She has published a book on the role of digital technologies in regulating energy transition (“Regolare la «transizione energetica»: Stato, Mercato, Innovazione”, Cedam, 2020) and many essays on Technology and Regulation. In particular, she investigated the role of blockchain and smart contracts in regulating public services; digital platforms and public services; urban regeneration and digitally oriented programming of smart cities; central bank digital currencies; the possible governance of medicines and diagnostic devices based on nanotechnology.

In the field of the interplay between Regulation and Technology, she also gave talks at the London School of Economics, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Tilburg University, LUMSA University of Rome, Ankara University, and Pisa University.

She was awarded the National Scientific Qualification as Associate Professor in 2020 and she was admitted to the Italian Lawyers Bar in 2019.

During her stay at the University of Graz Tamara will be working within the H2020 project "EC² - Energy Citizenship and Energy Communities for a Clean Energy Transition".


Selected Publications

Favaro, T. Central Bank Digital Currencies e gestione della crisi. Le possibili implicazioni di un “euro digitale” (“Central Bank Digital Currencies and crisis management. The possible implications of a «digital euro»”). In: U., Malvagna, A., Sciarrone Alibrandi: Sistema produttivo e finanziario post Covid-19: dall’efficienza alla sostenibilità. Voci dal diritto dell’economia. Pisa: Pacini Giuridica: 337-245 (2021).


Favaro, T. Regolare la «transizione energetica»: Stato, Mercato, Innovazione (“Regulating the Energy Transition: State, Market, and Innovation”). Padua: Cedam: 1-284 (2020).


Favaro, T. Transizione energetica e amministrazione decentrata (“Energy Transition and Decentralized administration”). GiustAmm.it, (5), 1-28 (2020).


Favaro, T. La valuta digitale della Banca Centrale tra funzione monetaria e tutela del risparmio (“Central Bank Digital Currency: towards a new power of Savings Protection?”). Rivista Trimestrale di Diritto dell’Economia, (2), 330-364 (2020). Available at: http://www.fondazionecapriglione.luiss.it/2020_02_RTDE.pdf.


Favaro, T. Smart contracts e intervento pubblico. Integrazione o sostituzione del potere regolatorio e sanzionatorio? (“Smart contracts and public intervention. Integration or replacement of the regulatory and sanctioning power?”). Amministrazione in Cammino, 1-20 (2020). Available at: https://www.amministrazioneincammino.luiss.it/2020/02/23/smart-contracts-e-intervento-pubblico-integrazione-o-sostituzione-del-potere-regolatorio-e-sanzionatorio/.


Favaro, T. Verso la smart city: sviluppo economico e rigenerazione urbana (“Towards the smart city: economic development and urban regeneration”). Rivista Giuridica dell’Edilizia, (2), 87-120 (2020).


Favaro, T. Dai brownfields alle smart cities. Rigenerazione urbana e programmazioni digitalmente orientate (“From brownfields to smart cities. Urban regeneration and digitally oriented programming”). In: M., Passalacqua, B., Pozzo: Diritto e rigenerazione dei Brownfields. Amministrazione, obblighi civilistici, tutele. Turin: Giappichelli: 169-190 (2019).


Favaro, T. Blockchain technologies for electricity trading regulation. In: Current and future challenges to energy security – 4th AIEE Energy Symposium Conference Proceedings. Rome: AIEE: 223-235 (2019).


Favaro, T. Blockchain technologies for electricity trading regulation. In: Current and future challenges to energy security – 4th AIEE Energy Symposium Conference Proceedings. Rome: AIEE: 66-67 (2019).


Favaro, T. Può la tecnologia regolare? Blockchain e «scambio tra pari» di energia rinnovabile (“Can Technology regulate? Blockchain and «peer to peer trading» of renewable energy”). Rivista della regolazione dei mercati, (2), 294-318 (2019). Available at: http://www.rivistadellaregolazionedeimercati.it/blockchain-e-scambio-tra-pari-di-energia-rinnovabile.


Favaro, T. Blockchain per l’intervento pubblico. Un possibile ritorno ai “luoghi” dell’economia?  (“Blockchain for public intervention. A possible return to the “places” of the economy?”). In A., Antonucci, M., De Poli, A., Urbani: I luoghi dell’Economia. Le dimensioni della sovranità, Turin: Giappichelli: 39-46 (2019).

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