Image: ProjectManhattan/Wikimedia Customs officials in Nigeria have confiscated 2.5 tons of plastic rice smuggled into the country by people hoping to take advantage of skyrocketing food prices.
The 102 bags of rice, each weighing about 55 pounds (25 kg) and labelled "Best Tomato Rice," were found in a store located in the Ikeja district of Lagos, Nigeria. The seizure came after a tip was received describing a criminal plot to distribute the fake rice to some designated persons in the city. A suspect has been arrested in connection with the nefarious scheme.
"He has made useful statement and he is helping the team to get to the root of the matter," said Nigeria's Comptroller in an All Africa article. "He actually admitted receiving the plastic rice from someone who wanted him to help distribute them to some people."
According to AFP, the rice was smuggled or illegally shipped in from China through Lagos' port.
"Before now, I thought it was a rumour that the plastic rice is all over the country but with this seizure, I have been totally convinced that such rice exists," customs controller Mohammed Haruna told the Nigerian Observer. "We have done a preliminary analysis of the plastic rice. After boiling, it was sticky and only God knows what would have happened if people consumed it,"
Officials believe the fake rice was to be sold ahead of the holiday season as prices surge for this food staple and as inflation continues to ravage purchasing power. A comparable bag of real rice is currently going for around 20,000 naira, or $US63 ($87). That's double the price from a year ago. Nigeria has also banned rice imports in an effort to promote local production.
This isn't the first time that news of fake rice has appeared in the media. Reports of plastic rice, sometimes intermixed with real rice, shows up every now and then, particularly in Asia where rice is a staple food item. The counterfeit rice is sometimes made by forming potatoes and sweet potatoes into a rice-like shape, and then adding harmful industrial synthetic resins. Sometimes, the rice is simply made by grinding up plastic (see videos here and here).
A recent article in Snopes claims that many — if not all — of these claims are false and just urban legends designed to perturb consumers. That may be the case, but this episode in Nigeria appears to have substance. The BBC's Martin Patience, who is in Lagos, reports:
Whoever made this fake rice did an exceptionally good job — on first impression it would have fooled me. When I ran the grains through my fingers nothing felt out of the ordinary.
But when I smelt a handful of the "rice" there was a faint chemical odour. Customs officials say when they cooked up the rice it was too sticky — and it was then abundantly clear this was no ordinary batch.
Customs officials have sent samples to a lab to determine exactly what this suspicious "rice" is made of.