Indonesia govt on high alert for plastic rice

Indonesia govt on high alert for plastic rice
Porters carry sacks of rice at a wholesale rice market in East Jakarta, Indonesia

Following public anxiety about synthetic rice containing industrial plastics, the government has launched an investigation into the possibility of sabotage.

Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo called for a thorough investigation by the police and the Trade Ministry, adding that rice has to be clean from plastics.

"The synthetic rice distributor also has a political motive, he or she may be making an attempt at treason or trying to sabotage the government," said Tjahjo.

The minister issued a memo to governors, mayors and regents nationwide to be cautious and to monitor the situation.

The plastic rice, which is suspected to be a Chinese import, started creating public fear following reports of fake rice from a porridge seller named Dewi Septiani in Mustika Jaya, Bekasi, West Java.

The artificial rice grains were blended with regular ones but later melted like plastic when cooked, causing worry for Bekasi residents.

A laboratory of state-owned survey company PT Superintending Company of Indonesia (Sucofindo) previously confirmed that the rice in Bekasi contained polyvinyl chloride (PVC) usually found in pipes, as well as plasticizer chemical substance usually found in hydraulic tools and electric capacitors that could cause kidney, liver, lung problems and cancer, if consumed.

Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel said that the government would try to reorganise all the imported rice entering the Indonesian market.

"We have to address this matter wisely. The management of traditional markets needs to be rearranged so that if there were a problem, we could find the source of it," Rachmat said on the sidelines of the 2015 APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting (MRT) in Boracay Island, Philippines, as quoted by Antara news agency.

China has promised to help Indonesia solve the case, according to Rachmat, after a bilateral meeting with Chinese vice minister of commerce Wang Shouwen, as reported by Antara.

According to Wang, there is only one Chinese state-owned company that has a permit to export rice to Indonesia, making an examination into the matter easier.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said everyone should wait for the official results of the tests on the rice.

"The rice grains are currently being tested by three laboratories, including the one at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture and a public laboratory. Let's just wait for the results," Jokowi said on the sidelines of an event in Surakarta, Central Java, on Sunday.

Although he urged all parties to remain calm, Jokowi questioned the motive behind the distribution of the synthetic rice, saying that it did not make sense if the aim was simply profit, since the cost of producing counterfeit rice was greater than natural rice.

The Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) said it had finished conducting lab tests on the rice samples and would soon hand over the results to the National Police.

"The test concluded on Friday, and the results will be announced by the police," BPOM head Roy Sparringa told The Jakarta Post via text message on Sunday.

Roy expected the police would retrieve the test results on Monday.

He declined to elaborate on the matter.

"We have no authority to publish the results. This is a part of the police's investigation," Roy said.

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