May 25, 2015 / 11:10 AM / in 3 years

Indonesian minister fears government sabotage in contaminated rice scare

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s home minister called for a police investigation into the suspected contamination of rice with plastic, saying it may be an attempt at sabotaging the government, media reported on Monday.

Customers check the quality of rice before buying at a wholesale rice market in East Jakarta, Indonesia, May 20, 2015. Indonesia's president could be forced to backtrack on promises to curb rice imports, with analysts saying the country may ship in as much as 1.6 million tonnes of the staple grain this year due to soaring prices at home and the threat of a strong El Nino. To match story INDONESIA-RICE/ Picture taken May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Nyimas Laula

President Joko Widodo has called for calm after reports that tainted rice may have caused the hospitalization of a girl in Medan on Sunday and made some customers at a food market in Bekasi sick last week.

Rice is a common food staple in Indonesia, the world’s third biggest importer, and reports of contamination can quickly cause food scares in the vast archipelago.

“The synthetic rice distributor ... may be making an attempt at treason or trying to sabotage the government,” Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo was quoted as saying by the English-daily Jakarta Post.

The scare began last week when customers complained of nausea and dizziness after eating suspect rice from a vendor in Bekasi, a town neighboring the capital of Jakarta.

Initial tests indicated the rice was contaminated with plastic and plastic softeners.

Widodo, however, urged consumers to wait for official government test results before jumping to conclusions.

“Don’t everyone just talk and make the problem bigger,” Widodo told reporters on Sunday as quoted by online news site Detik.com. “What is most important is to look at the root problem and check if it really was in Bekasi or just one vendor.”

Police were waiting for the results of official tests before continuing their investigation, Assistant Police Commissioner Siswo told Reuters.

The trade ministry plans to issue regulations to tighten controls on rice imports and impose closer supervision of rice storage facilities, Trade Minister Rahmat Gobel said.

“Security has been a bit lacking,” Gobel said, referring to allegations the contaminated rice came from China, and noting that Indonesia had not issued permits to import Chinese rice this year.

The Bekasi vendor, Dewi Septiani, told reporters that the rice she had sold in porridge was “clearly very different and smelled different too. It’s not like natural rice”.

Additional reporting by Cindy Silviana; Editing by Randy Fabi

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