A dispute is brewing between Arkansas’s rice industry and makers of other products over ownership of the word “rice” and the right to market foods as such.
“It is a grain, not a shape,” said Lauren Waldrip Ward with the Arkansas Rice Federation.
Ward and others are asking Arkansas’ federal delegation for some help in appealing to the Food and Drug Administration to restrict the use of the words "rice" and "riced" on products that do not contain grains.
Ward said rice is a significant sector of the Arkansas economy, with some 2,500 rice farms contributing billions to the state economy every year and supporting about 25,000 jobs, including many in the state’s most rural areas.
But Ward said the dispute over the name isn’t about the rice industry as much as it is about consumers and their right to know what they are buying and eating.
Ward said products marketed as "cauliflower rice" are confusing to consumers, since they use the word "rice" but have a very different nutritional profile than rice.
Others countered that “rice” is a generic enough word that no one industry can claim ownership. It is similar to the word “noodle,” according to Gina Nucci, director of corporate marketing with Mann’s Packing.
Some of Mann’s product Nourish Bowls contain rice, but some contain “cauliflower rice,” which is lower in carbohydrates.
“I think people know rice as rice and 'cauliflower rice' as cauliflower rice,” said Nucci.
She said Mann’s has found that consumers strongly prefer to open a bag of pre-made cauliflower rice, rather than taking the time to wash a head of cauliflower and run it through a food processor to get it diced up into small bits.
Nucci said cauliflower rice fits in well with many consumers’ desire to stick to lower carb options and substitute vegetables for grains.
Matthew Sligar, a rice farmer in California and commentator who makes YouTube videos about the rice farming industry, said he wonders why cauliflower has to attach the name of another food product in order to make sales.
“In terms of nutrition, I think they are creating a false correlation,” he said, pointing to cauliflower rice products being marketed as having 80 percent less carbohydrates than rice. “They are comparing something that is not even in the same group on the food pyramid, so of course there’s differences in nutritional value.”
With marketing campaigns such as Move Over, Rice, and Reimagine Your Rice, manufacturers of cauliflower rice have left little doubt that, as Ward put it, they plan to capitalize on the success of the rice industry.
According to local horticulturalists, cauliflower is not grown on a large commercial scale in Arkansas and can be a challenging crop for even home gardeners.
State Rep. Blake Johnson (R-Corning) said he will work on a resolution later this month to encourage Arkansas’s federal representatives to seek action from the FDA.
A rice farmer himself, Johnson said cauliflower rice manufacturers are not entitled to ally themselves with the Arkansas rice industry, by name, reputation or history.
“They can do their own marketing and appeal to the public with their own merits, like rice has,” he said.
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