Residue tests not priority

Canada’s organic community is not keen on duplicating a move south of the border toward increased pesticide residue testing.

The U.S. National Organic Program recently had its wrist slapped for failing to live up to a requirement contained in the Organic Foods Production Act for certifiers to conduct periodic residue tests.

“None of the four certifying agents we visited conducted periodic residue testing of the approximately 5,000 certified operations for which they were responsible,” said a report prepared by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General.

“There is no assurance that certifying agents performed regular periodic testing at any of the approximately 28,000 certified organic operations worldwide.”

In response to the report, the U.S. National Organic Program ann-ounced it is planning to implement periodic residue testing of agricultural products by September 2010.

There is no stipulation in Canada’s national organic standard or in the regulation that enables inspectors to conduct residue tests.

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But it is a tool available to inspectors if they are harbouring suspicions, said Laura Telford, executive director of Canadian Organic Growers.

Observation is the first pillar of inspection, followed by good record keeping.

If either of the first two phases of the inspection raises any red flags the inspector can order a residue test. But that doesn’t happen very often because testing is costly and inefficient, said Telford.

There are no comprehensive tests that detect all pesticides. Testing is done for a specific substance and there are hundreds of approved agricultural chemicals on the market.

“These tests are one-by-one and they are a couple of hundred dollars a pop,” she said.

Those costs will be passed along to the organic farmer.

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“Testing on a random basis is not going to be of great utility. It’s like throwing your money down a big hole,” said Telford.

If a more practical testing option was available, she said the industry would get behind it.

Mischa Popoff, an organic consultant and former inspector, has long argued that testing should be part of the Canadian organic system.

He was contacted for this story but did not return calls.

According to a website for a testing business he operates (www.isitorganic.ca), Popoff can test for more than 120 prohibited substances in different chemical families for $300.

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