An increasing craving for white and brighter rice grains is harmful for both nutritional intake and national rice production, according to researchers and top officials.
They say excessive buffing of rice kernels to make the food staple look white reduces nutritional factors up to 30%, and prompts at least 10 lakh tonnes of rice shortage per year.
The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority in its 2018 research showed polished rice brands such as Miniket and Najirshail offer less calories, carbohydrate, fat and fibre compared to brown rice.
The authorities have taken up new research to find out the nutritional value if rice is polished at various rates ranging from 5% to 30%, Prof Mohammad Abdul Alim, a member of the authority, told The Business Standard.
With a high demand for white rice, millers now polish the grains up to 30% though there has been the highest 8% ceiling for rice buffing. The buffed-out outer surface of rice kernels is being used for fish and poultry feeds, and rice bran oil.
Food ministry officials said demand for the buffed-out rice kernels for feeds and oil is on the rise, while consumers too prefer white rice – encouraging the millers for excessive polishing. This leads to 10 lakh tonnes of annual production shortage forcing Bangladesh to import more rice.
According to food ministry research, farmers usually get 27 kg rice from one maund paddy (equivalent to about 37 kg). But big millers now produce 23-24 kg of rice from one maund paddy thanks to excessive rice buffing. The milled out 3-4 kg of rice kernels are sold to feed producers.
Food ministry says it found the tendency more common in large-scale private rice husking facilities such as Rashid and Belal rice mill.
Ihtesham B Shahjahan, president of the Feed Industries Association Bangladesh, said they use up to 10% rice kernels, while their annual production is more than 65 lakh tonnes.
As per the estimation, the feed industry alone consumes 6.5 lakh tonnes of kernels after buying it from rice millers at Tk30-35 per kg.
However, the food ministry said annual use of kernels surpasses 10 lakh tonnes as bran rice oil production uses husk and rice kernels.
Self-sufficiency claim contrasts shortage, soaring prices
Grappled by unbridled prices of the food staple, the government has been importing rice for the last two years. The country's private sector has been allowed to bring in 17 lakh tonnes of rice while the government is also importing it.
However, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics says the country is self-sufficient in rice production. It has produced 3.76 lakh tonnes of rice this season, which is supposed to dimmish rice imports as the yield is more than enough to feed the entire population.
Food ministry attributes the shortage fuelling rice prices to over-polishing, and now looking into the consumption data. Officials said there might be restrictions on millers so that they cannot polish rice more than the allowable 8% limit. Besides, there would be awareness campaigns for consumers on nutritional benefits of brown rice.
Premium rice brands such as Miniket or Najirshail grab the headlines whenever discussions on rice come to the spotlight. There have been speculations how the brands are reaching the retails when there are no such paddy varieties.
Millers say the premium brands are produced by severely buffing local coarse varieties. With a mix up of several paddy varieties, rice mills can produce different brands subject to the polishing.
Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder recently talked about mandating paddy varieties mentioned on the rice sacks. If the final product consists of two or more paddies, their names must be mentioned on the packaging alongside the brand names.
Layek Ali, general secretary of the Bangladesh Auto Major and Husking Mill Owners' Association, said they will comply with whatever decision the government comes up with.