Cocaine, Marijuana and . . . Rice?! What’s Next Frozen Peas?
I have to admit right off the bat that when NHPPA President Shawn Buckley related the current case of The Warm Buddy Company which appears to be on a collision course with Health Canada over everyday table rice, my initial reaction was that there had to be more to the story.
After all, table rice is something with which we are are familiar, regularly consume and besides being a threat to birds when thrown at a wedding, is one of the most versatile and innocuous food substances known to man.
So how could it be that it is now at the center of a controversy that could threaten the very existence of a company that has been using the substance for more than 13 years?
First of all, let me tell you a bit about The Warm Buddy Company.
13 years ago the company was started by a former nurse whose objective was to provide patients with comforting stuffed animals such as a teddy bear. The teddy bears are no different than the stuffed versions sold in most every toy store throughout the land with one exception. At the back of the bear is a slot with a heating pack that contains a small amount of everyday table rice that when heated provides both warmth and comfort.
The premise is fairly straight forward, and in fact is similar to what we did for my wife during the birth of our first child when we filled a tube sock with oatmeal which when heated and gently rolled over her back during what became 36 hours of labor helped to provide a surprisingly high therapeutic benefit.
While effective, what appears to be at the heart of the Health Canada complaint and, the reason that they are demanding that the company recall all of the products that have been sold over the past 13 years, is that rice is considered to be a seed and is therefore in violation of The Hazardous Products Act. Specifically (section 10(c) of Part 1 of Schedule 1), which prohibits the sale of childrens’ toys that “contain plant seeds as stuffing material.”
Even though white rice is technically the seed of the monocot plant Oryza sativa, with the exception of only one complaint about The Warm Buddy product related to a user being burned after it was heated, does this warrant the heavy handed response on the part of Health Canada?
According to a March 8th, 2010 Health Canada policy paper it does. Concluding that rice is indeed a seed, the risks as outlined by the department are as follows:
o the seeds could be toxic;
o the seeds could be treated with a toxic pesticide;
o the seeds could be an allergen to some individuals;
o the seeds could become lodged in a child’s nose or ears;
o the seeds could be aspirated into the lungs;
o medical professionals will have difficulty locating seeds that have entered the body because plant material is not x-ray opaque;
o seeds that remain in the lungs for extended periods of time may fester and
become a cause of bronchitis or pneumonia;
o seeds that have entered the body (with the presence of body moisture) may
swell and germinate and become excessively difficult to remove; and
o the seeds could contain larvae or insect eggs which could develop (with heat and moisture) into an infestation of vermin;
Certainly this is a somewhat sobering list of possible risks associated with using plant seeds, but to what degree does it apply specifically to rice. Even more important of a question, are there cases in which a product containing rice has led to the the specific problems highlighted above?
Even in the case of the lone complaint filed against the company, which is not one of the issues listed in the Health Canada policy paper, the potential risks of using a heating pad of any make or type including, being applied for too long a period, or if damaged, overheated or misused is not limited to rice-based products.
This leads one to ask the obvious question, upon what is Health Canada basing their actions with regard to The Warm Buddy Company, who has produced and shipped this product to consumers for the past 13 years? Is Health Canada, as some in the industry have suggested, deliberately trying to put the company out of business by making onerous demands including a total product recall?
Those who oppose the proposed Bill C-36, citing this as an example of what the industry can expect should Health Canada be granted the unfettered powers associated with the Bill if the legislation is passed, believe that this is exactly the department’s intention.
Based on our research including a Q&A exchange in Pregnancy Today, it would appear that for all intents and purposes rice poses no more risk than a conventional or mainstream heat treatment product.
In fact when the question was posed by a pregnant women if using a heating pad for her lower back pain was safe, here is the answer the experts provided:
“Some caregivers suggest you not use an electric heating pad because of electromagnetic fields. I recommend using a rice sock instead:
Take a brand new men’s over-the-calf tube sock and fill it with approximately 2 pounds of uncooked rice. Tie it off or sew it shut and microwave it for 2 minutes. It smells great and holds heat for almost an hour.”
If health experts recommend the use of homemade rice-based heating products, without the prerequisite governance in terms of quality and safety, something that is occurring with increasing frequency in the public domain – I find Health Canada’s actions to be both overbearing and draconian.
This includes Health Canada inspectors visiting retailers to force the stuffed animals from the market, which also involved a trip to a city in Saskatchewan to seize stuffed animals from one retailer. This police action was extended to even include a visit to at least one home business. I hope that this doesn’t mean that I have to hide my tube socks?
Once again, based on our research to date, we find nothing that would suggest that rice poses any more of a risk than any other material used in common heating pads. Therefore, and in the absence of any real evidence, the long and the short of the story is simply this . . . what is the real motive behind the Health Canada action against The Warm Buddy Company?