Rice

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 28 rice brands.

We also look at its climate impact, use of GM, shine a spotlight on the ethics of EH Booth & Co and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying rice:

  • Is it organic? Made from petroleum, chemical pesticides threaten bee populations, contaminate water sources, and cause large-scale destruction of habitats. Look for organic to avoid rice grown with these chemicals. 

  • Is it Fairtrade? Many agricultural products are grown by overworked and underpaid workers. Look for Fairtrade to ensure that the person growing your rice is paid a fair wage and receives fair working conditions.

  • Is it grown in Europe? Japonica short-grained rice can be grown in Europe, although will often come from the US or Japan. Go for rice grown closer to home to cut down on your food miles.

Best Buys

Our Best Buys all sell Fairtrade [F] and / or organic [O] rice:

Recommended Buy

Tree of Life and Gallo’s organic products are recommended buys due to their relatively high ethiscores. However, both companies score a worst rating under both the Environmental Reporting and Supply Chain Management categories.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying rice:

  • Is it grown using pesticides? For agricultural workers and local people, the health impacts of extensive agrochemical use are numerous, not to mention the environmental issues. Opt for organic rice.

  • Is it packaged in plastic? The plastic in our oceans could circle the planet 400 times. It is threatening marine ecosystems and contributing to climate change. Buy from places that sell rice loose or bulk buy to cut down on packaging.

  • Is it clocking up the food miles? Many varieties of rice need to be grown in hot climates, and are cultivated in Asia. If you want to cut down on food miles, and live in the UK, opt for a grain that can be grown closer to home.

Companies to avoid

We would recommend avoiding own-brand rice from the supermarkets at the bottom of our table.

  • Asda
  • Tesco
  • Sainsbury's
  • Morrisons

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Infinity Foods rice [O,F]

Company Profile: Infinity Foods Co-operative Limited
15

Clearspring rice [O]

Company Profile: Clearspring Ltd
14.5

Infinity Foods rice [O]

Company Profile: Infinity Foods Co-operative Limited
14.5

Organico rice [O]

Company Profile: Organico Realfoods Limited
14.5

Suma rice [O]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd
14.5

Biona rice [O]

Company Profile: Windmill Organics Ltd
14

Infinity Foods rice

Company Profile: Infinity Foods Co-operative Limited
13.5

Suma rice

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd
13.5

Essential rice [O]

Company Profile: Essential Trading Co-operative Ltd
13

Gallo rice [O]

Company Profile: RISO GALLO SPA
12.5

Traidcraft rice [F]

Company Profile: Traidcraft plc
12.5

Tree of Life rice [O]

Company Profile: Tree of Life UK Ltd
12.5

Akash rice

Company Profile: SANTOSH OVERSEAS LIMITED
12

Barenaked Rice

Company Profile: Barenakedfoods Ltd
12

Essential rice

Company Profile: Essential Trading Co-operative Ltd
12

Gallo rice

Company Profile: RISO GALLO SPA
12

Amira rice [O]

Company Profile: Amira Nature Foods
11

Ashoka rice

Company Profile: Veetee Rice Ltd
11

Badshah rice

Company Profile: Veetee Rice Ltd
11

Rozana rice

Company Profile: Veetee Rice Ltd
11

Veetee rice

Company Profile: Veetee Rice Ltd
11

East End Basmati rice

Company Profile: East End Foods
10.5

Amira rice

Company Profile: Amira Nature Foods
10

Cup -a- Rice

Company Profile: Premier Foods Plc
9

Super Rice

Company Profile: Premier Foods Plc
9

Tilda Rice

Company Profile: Hain Celestial Group Inc
6.5

Co-op rice

Company Profile: Co-operative Group Ltd
5

M&S rice

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
5

Waitrose rice [O]

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
4.5

Booths rice

Company Profile: EH Booth & Co Ltd
4

Seeds of Change rice [O]

Company Profile: Seeds of Change
4

Sainsbury's So Organic rice [O]

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
3.5

Waitrose rice

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
3.5

Morrisons rice [O]

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
3

Uncle Ben's Rice

Company Profile: Mars Inc
3

Sainsbury's Rice

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
2.5

Morrisons rice

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
2

Tesco rice [O]

Company Profile: Tesco plc
2

Guru Rice

Company Profile: Westmill Foods
1.5

Tolly Boy Rice

Company Profile: Westmill Foods
1.5

Tesco Rice

Company Profile: Tesco plc
1

Asda rice [O]

Company Profile: Asda Group Ltd
0.5

Asda Rice

Company Profile: Asda Group Ltd
0

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

Rice is a staple food for approximately half of the world’s population, with four-fifths of rice being produced by small-scale farmers in developing countries. Europeans and Americans consume approximately 1-2%[1] of their food energy from rice. However, the vast majority (90%) of rice is both produced and consumed in Asia.

Women play an important and often ignored role in rice cultivation, contributing approximately 25-60% of required labour in South-East Asia and up to 60–80% of labour in South Asia. As women are often involved in the planting, weeding, harvesting, processing and seed saving of rice, it is essential that they support the development of solutions to the challenges highlighted in this guide. Our feature on sustainable rice standards start to take the role of gender into account, but there is still a long way to go before women globally have equal access to technology and resources.

The UK market

The Mars-owned Uncle Ben’s brand dominates the UK market and accounts for 36% of sales and 69% of the total ad-spend in 2013. Tilda is also a key player and own-label brands account for a further third of the market.

Image: Rice workers in rice fields

What’s on the tables?

The general standard of environmental reporting in this sector is low.

Infinity Foods, Windmill Organics, Essential Trading, Suma, Akash, East End Foods, Alda Capital Ltd, Tree Of Life, Orvalley Corporation, Hain Celestial, Associated British Foods, Amira, Veetee and Booths score worst for Ethical Consumer’s environmental reporting rating.

Traidcraft, Premier Foods, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Asda score a middle. Only Organico and Mars score a best.

Although supermarkets do slightly better on environmental reporting they still dominate the bottom of the table. This is because they sell a wide range of products and are rated on a correspondingly wide range of issues, for example, conflict minerals, factory farming, animal rights and genetic engineering. Companies that only produce rice are not rated on these issues as they are not relevant.

Essential, Amira, Hain Celestial, Booths, Morrisons, Tesco and Wal-Mart score a worst Ethical Consumer rating for their palm oil policies and lose marks under the climate change, habitats and resources, and human rights categories.

All other companies don’t use palm oil or score a best rating for sourcing sustainable palm oil and therefore lose no marks.

Anti-social finance hides a multitude of sins, from excessive remuneration (Premier Foods, John Lewis Partnership) and price fixing (Mars, Sainsbury’s), to parent companies located in tax havens (Veetee, Amira). There was also one prosecution for tax avoidance, but since the company in question (Project Blue) has only a 24% stake in the brand Barenaked this does not register on our table.

Price comparison

Ranking of fairtrade and organic rice prices. Best Buy recommendations are marked BB.

Brand Average price per kg
Seeds of Change [O] £10.02
Organico [O] BB £6.90
Biona [O] BB £6.44
Gallo Rice [O] £5.18
Infinity Foods [O] [F] BB £4.95
Tree of Life [O] £4.79
Traidcraft [F] £4.25
Infinity Foods [O] £4.19
Tesco [O] £3.78
Waitrose [O] £3.38
Suma [O] BB £3.26
Sainsbury's [O] £3.23
Asda [O] £3.07
Essential [O] BB £3.02
Morrisons [O] £2.62

Environmental Impact of Rice

Approximately 600 million tonnes of CO2 (equivalent of methane) are thought to be emitted from rice paddies globally, equal to “1.2% of total global emissions”, at least 10% of agricultural emissions and about “three times the footprint of all cement produced in Europe”.[1] This value does not even account for the fertilisers used during rice production (approximately 1 tonne of fertiliser is used for every 3 tonnes of rice produced), the agricultural machinery used or the transport emissions released to bring rice to your dinner table.

On the flip side, by 2050 the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) predicts that rice prices will have increased 32-37% as a result of climate change, due to predicted yield decreases and crop damage caused by extreme weather events and sea level rise.

Why do rice paddies release methane?

Rice is typically grown in flooded fields (paddies), which result in oxygen being prevented from entering the soil. This creates anaerobic (without oxygen) soil conditions, which are perfect for methane-producing bacteria. Methane escapes into the atmosphere through gas spaces in the rice’s roots and stems, and bubbles up through the soil and water.

Image: Rice paddies methane
Vietnamese woman transplanting rice in a flooded paddy along the Red River near Haiphong, Vietnam. Photo credit: Steve Estvanik

When drained, rice paddies release less methane. However, if fertilisers have been over-applied or available soil nitrogen is higher than the plant needs (due to the inefficient application of fertilisers), drained paddies potentially emit increased levels of nitrous oxide, another potent greenhouse gas (GHG). Effective water and nutrient management are therefore key to reducing rice’s GHG emissions.

Rice’s role in a sustainable food future

A growing body of evidence suggest that rice’s methane emissions can be significantly reduced through changes in production methods alone.

For example:

  1. Interrupting or reducing periods of flooding in paddy fields can reduce methane emissions released by soil bacteria, in some cases by up to 90%. A number of methods including mid-season drainage and sowing seeds directly into dry fields can play a role in reducing both GHG emissions and fresh water use. (Rice production uses more than 30% of the world’s irrigation water).
  2. Increasing rice yields on existing farmland can help prevent agricultural expansion and associated land-use change. Varieties of rice that can cope with higher temperatures (predicted with climate change) should be cultivated. Production methods such as System of Rice Intensification (SRI) could all assist in increasing yields. (SRI is a method of rice production that has been developed by smallholder farmers around the world. It focuses on improving soils and the health of plants rather than altering seed which has been the main focus of scientific research for years. For example, SRI involves keeping soils moist but not flooded, using organic matter as fertilisers rather than artificial fertilisers, spacing healthier plants farther apart, weeding between rice plants, and ploughing the soil between plants to increase oxygen in the soil).

However, technical barriers and inconsistent results regarding the benefits of the above systems currently prevent widespread adoption.

Where can I buy ‘sustainable rice’?

In short, you can’t. Of all the companies covered, very little information about rice production methods was found, with the exception of those companies that offer organic rice products. And even organic certification does not ensure practices such as mid-season drainage are used. Only Mars stated its aim of sourcing 100% of its rice sustainably by 2020, based on the first ever global standard for sustainable rice – launched in October 2015 by The Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP).

The SRP is a “multi-stakeholder partnership [of public sector, private sector and NGO members] that aims to promote resource efficiency and sustainability both on-farm and throughout the rice supply chain”. SRP’s 29 members at the time of writing included Bayer, Mars Foods, Syngenta, the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certified.

Currently no company covered meets the SRP’s standards or is commercially cultivating rice using the methods described above.

What can I do?

Globally reducing our intake of rice and replacing it with more local and lower-carbon staples such as wheat or barley, is one action we can take toward lower-carbon diets.

However, it is important to remember the social implications of such a decision. Rice is not only a staple food for 3.5 billion people and a key source of income for millions of smallholder farmers, but has become integrated into the cultures of many rice-producing countries and is even considered sacred in the traditional societies of South East Asia.

In the long term companies should be pressured into pledging to source more sustainable rice and supporting initiatives that make this possible. Writing to companies and letting them know your thoughts can play a part in making this happen.

GM and Rice

You won’t find GM rice on the shelves as, despite seven varieties currently being authorised for cultivation in specific (non-EU) countries, none is actually being grown. One of the reasons for that may be the appalling record of GM contamination incidents involving rice, such as the experimental crop grown on a test site in the USA between 1998 and 2001 that turned up in commercial rice supplies in 24 different countries a full five years later.

Golden Rice is the poster-child for GM promotion, aiming to reduce Vitamin A deficiency by making the staple diet of millions of the poorest people on the planet more nutritious. However, 16 years (and billions of dollars) on from successfully adding a beta carotene gene to rice, researchers still haven’t developed a crop that works in the field.

Paragraph written by Liz O'Neill from GM Freeze.

Company behind the brand

EH Booth & Co owns 30 small community Booths stores including 18 stores in Lancashire, seven stores in Cumbria, three stores in Yorkshire, two stores in Cheshire, and one in Greater Manchester. Founded in 1847, Booths is Britain’s oldest family-owned and run grocery business. What sets Booths apart is its dedication to providing a variety of fresh, organically-grown produce, as well as meat and dairy products sourced from local farms. 

Booths Greenhouse Gas Footprint report was the most comprehensive and transparent account of emissions in the supply chains of any UK supermarket that we found. It’s a shame it didn’t contain any quantified and dated targets otherwise it would have got out best rating for environmental reporting.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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References: 

  1. Mike Berners-Lee’s How Bad Are Bananas? (2010) 
  2. Joanna Blythman, The Food We Eat (1996)