I initially thought it was just a joke or misunderstanding, but “plastic rice” has become a diplomacy issue and is getting serious attention from government officials.
News started circulating last week from Indonesia where a local resident claimed her cooked rice contained “'strange particles,” according to the Antara News. The woman then did some research on the Internet and suspected the rice contained PVC. She shared her suspicions on social media, and news media picked it up.
For some reason, these “plastic rice” are believed to originate from China.
Indonesian and Chinese officials held a closed-door meeting last week to discuss the issue.
China's Deputy Director General of General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) Bi Kexin has told media that there is no plastic rice China. He also argued plastic rice would be expensive to make and therefore not profitable.
Reports claim the plastic rice is made from a mixture of starch (potato flour, for example) and plastic resin.
No lab tests have been revealed on the composition of the suspected rice sample.
Both governments have asserted that China does not export rice to Indonesia. China said it hasn't done so since 2008.
Indonesia's home minister said the spreading of plastic rice scare may be an attempt at sabotaging the government, according to a Reuters story.
The only sensible explanation I've seen so far is from Malaysia-based Nanyang.com, which quoted local plastic recyclers who said the “plastic rice” featured in viral videos is in fact recycled plastic pellets. But these pellets look very distinctive from real rice grains. The recyclers also told the media that it wouldn't make sense to go through the trouble of mixing potato flour and plastic resin to make fake rice.
The phrase “plastic rice” does exist in China, but it's used by plastics industry professionals to refer to plastic resin pellets.
I'm still hoping the whole drama will prove to be mere misunderstanding, but it's sobering to watch how plastics can be so easily demonized among the general public.