Here in Canada we enjoy one of the safest food supplies in the world. We’re fortunate to be able to visit the grocery store and find the shelves fully stocked with a wide range of fruits and vegetables, and to have confidence that they are safe to eat and feed to our families.
Unfortunately, there are certain groups that spread fear and misinformation about the safety of foods grown through conventional agriculture. For example, a U.S.-based group publishes an annual list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that they claim should be avoided due to pesticide residues.
Although the list has been discredited by the scientific community, it still garners some attention and has the effect of discouraging people from eating fruits and vegetables, which I think we can all agree is a bad thing.
Pesticides are an important part of food production. They help farmers grow healthy abundant crops by protecting them against insects, weeds and diseases. In fact both organic and conventional farmers rely on pesticides, all of which are stringently regulated in Canada.
Health Canada is responsible for ensuring all pesticides, whether used for conventional or organic production, are safe for both people and the environment, and that includes taking into account pesticide residues on food. And Health Canada clearly states that there is no health risk from eating conventionally grown foods because of pesticide residues.
The problem with lists like the Dirty Dozen is they fail to consider the potential for harm. The reality is that more than 99 percent of Canadian fruits and vegetables test well below pesticide residue limits set by Health Canada. The fact that pesticide residue levels can sometimes be detected is not a cause for concern. Detection technology is now so sophisticated that it can detect trace amounts of things in the parts per billion (think a drop of water in an Olympic size swimming pool).
The Alliance for Food and Farming in the U.S. developed a pesticide residue calculator to help put this issue into perspective. They have calculated how many servings of certain types of vegetables a person would have to eat in one day for there to be any concern about pesticide residues. For example, an adult woman would have to eat 850 apples in one day and a child would have to eat 7,240 servings of carrots before pesticide residues would pose any safety concern.
As a scientist and someone who works in the agriculture industry I proudly stand behind the safety of the food Canadian farmers are producing using the latest tools and technologies available to them. Let’s take the fight out of food and encourage Canadians to eat more fruits and vegetables no matter how they are grown.
Maria Trainer, Ph.D
Managing director of science and regulatory affairs for chemistry, CropLife Canada