A recent report by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has people talking about pesticide residues and food safety. And that’s a good thing, because it means that the questions people have about their food are being heard – and, being answered.

CFIA, knowing that consumers would want an explanation of what the data means, asked Health Canada to weigh in, which is how we know that Health Canada had determined that glyphosate residues on food do not pose any health and safety concerns.

Despite this assurance, it’s understandable that consumers may have questions when they hear that 30 per cent of foods tested had residues of one widely used herbicide. A little bit of context can help offer comfort to Canadians wanting to make the best choices at the grocery store for their families.

As technology continues to advance it becomes easier to detect minute quantities of almost anything, including pesticides. Think about this: we can now detect substances in the parts per billion, which is equivalent to about one second in 32 years. So, it’s important to keep in mind that simply detecting the presence of something does not mean there is reason for concern.

The report from the CFIA noted that while 30 per cent of foods tested had glyphosate residues, just over one percent exceeded maximum residue limits (MRLs). MRLs are established to facilitate trade and they are not indicators of safety. The one per cent of products that exceeded the MRL were still well below any levels that would pose a risk to human health. In most cases, MRLs are set 100 times or more below a level that would pose any safety concern.

While it’s a common misconception that MRLs are a safety limit, this is simply not the case. We applaud the CFIA and Health Canada for making that clear and reassuring Canadians about the safety of our food supply.

Glyphosate has a long track record of safety and has been widely adopted by Canadian farmers because of its effectiveness in controlling weeds and its contribution to the production of a safe and abundant food supply.

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) regularly reviews products to ensure they continue to meet Canada’s high level of safety standards. Recently, the PMRA released its final re-evaluation decision for glyphosate. Following an exhaustive review of all available scientific data, the PMRA concluded that, when used according to label instructions, glyphosate is not likely to cause a health risk to humans or to the environment.

One of the reasons for its wide-spread adoption is the fact that glyphosate is extremely effective in controlling weeds while posing little risk to human health. In fact, many items commonly found in your kitchen have higher levels of toxicity than glyphosate, for example, table salt.

The practice of controlling weeds with glyphosate in herbicide-resistant crops has helped enable farmers to adopt conservation tillage practices. Since farmers can control weeds without having to till their fields, they’re able to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they produce, protect the health of the soil and grow more on less land.

According to a recent report from RIAS Inc., thanks to their adoption of modern plant science technologies, farmers use up to 194 million fewer litres of diesel fuel a year and have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by almost 30 million tonnes a year.

The bottom line is that our food safety system is working. It’s transparent and protective of people’s health, providing consumers the confidence to choose any product on store shelves.

 

Pierre Petelle

Acting president, CropLife Canada