JAKARTA - Indonesia's home minister called for a police investigation into the suspected contamination of rice with plastic, saying it may be an attempt at sabotaging the government, the media reported yesterday.
President Joko Widodo has called for calm after reports that tainted rice may have caused the hospitalisation of a girl in Medan on Sunday and made some customers at a food market in Bekasi sick last week.
Rice is a staple in Indonesia, the world's third-biggest importer, and reports of contamination can cause food scares in the country.
"The synthetic rice distributor... may be making an attempt at treason or trying to sabotage the government," Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo was quoted as saying by English daily The Jakarta Post.
The scare began last week when customers complained of nausea and dizziness after eating suspected tainted rice from a vendor in Bekasi, a town near the capital of Jakarta.
Initial tests indicated the rice was contaminated with plastic and plastic softeners.
However, Mr Joko urged consumers to wait for official government test results and not to jump to conclusions.
"Don't just talk and make the problem bigger," he told reporters on Sunday, as quoted by online news site Detik.com.
"What is most important is to look at the root problem and check if it really was in Bekasi or just one vendor."
Police were waiting for the results of official tests before continuing their investigation, Assistant Police Commissioner Siswo told Reuters.
The Trade Ministry plans to issue regulations to tighten controls on rice imports and impose closer supervision of rice storage facilities, Trade Minister Rahmat Gobel said.
"Security has been a bit lacking," he said, referring to allegations that the contaminated rice came from China and noting that Indonesia had not issued permits to import Chinese rice this year.
The Bekasi vendor, Dewi Septiani, told reporters that the rice she had sold in porridge was "clearly very different and smelled different too. It's not like natural rice".
Last week, plastic rice was reportedly said to have made its way to countries with large rural populations such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
One rumour said the fake rice had entered Singapore.
But a spokesman for the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) told The Straits Times: "As part of AVA's routine surveillance, imported rice is regularly inspected and sampled to ensure compliance with our food safety standards and requirements.
"Our sampling tests cover a wide range of food-borne hazards. Thus far, the testing results have been satisfactory. We have not received any feedback on fake rice."