Indonesian minister says suspected plastic rice contamination may be attempt at govt sabotage

Customers check the quality of rice before buying at a wholesale rice market in East Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 20, 2015. Indonesia's home minister Tjahjo Kumolo called for a police investigation into the suspected contamination of rice wit
Customers check the quality of rice before buying at a wholesale rice market in East Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 20, 2015. Indonesia's home minister Tjahjo Kumolo called for a police investigation into the suspected contamination of rice with plastic, saying it may be an attempt at sabotaging the government, the media reported on Monday, May 25. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

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, the media reported on Monday.

President Joko Widodo has called for calm after reports that tainted rice may have caused the hospitalisation 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 English daily The 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 neighbouring the capital of Jakarta. Initial tests indicated the rice was contaminated with plastic and plastic softeners.

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

"Don't everyone just talk and make the problem bigger," he 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," Mr 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, Ms 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".