NEW ORLEANS, La. — The Canadian wheat industry hopes it has dodged a bullet that could have seriously affected trade.
Late last year, a Codex committee was close to rubber-stamping new maximum levels for deoxynivalenol (DON), or vomitoxin.
The proposal included a limit of two parts per million on raw cereal grains at the farm level before damaged kernels were sorted and removed.
Those standards would have been rapidly adopted by a number of Canada’s key trading partners.
The Baking Association of Canada, the Canadian National Millers Association and Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC) wrote a letter to Health Canada urging the agency to push for a more reasonable limit.
“The proposed (maximum levels), if adopted by Codex and in turn by importing countries, could have significant adverse consequences for international trade in cereal grains, grain-derived commodities and grain-based further processed foods,” said the group in its letter.
Bill Wilson, an agribusiness professor at North Dakota State University, recently echoed those concerns.
“There is a proposal at Codex coming up to change severely the international standards on vomitoxin, and that will have a tremendous (impact) in the world wheat economy about what’s tradable internally and externally,” he said during a presentation at the 2014 Oilseed & Grain Trade Summit.
Blair Rutter, executive director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, said the proposed standards could seriously restrict trade.
“We do have a fusarium problem here, so we don’t want to see the standards too tight,” he said.
Susan Abel, vice-president of safety and compliance with FCPC, said the industry recognizes that consuming too much of the fusarium fungus can be dangerous, but setting limits at the farm level is impractical.
“It’s so early in the process that we would end up rejecting an awful lot of perfectly good grain,” she said.
Millers and bakers are able to significantly reduce vomitoxin levels by running grain through cleaning and sorting equipment and blending it with other ingredients rendering the grain safe to consume.
“We could potentially be putting aside a great deal of grain. That could be very disruptive for farmers and for manufacturers,” said Abel.
Wilson said the Codex proposal could also have dire consequences for livestock producers.
“(It) will affect the feed market more drastically than we’ve ever seen before,” he said.
Abel said Canada’s grain industry had already been working closely with Health Canada on the issue because the government is developing regulations for vomitoxin levels similar to what exist in the European Union. Currently there are only industry guidelines for addressing the problem.
The industry wants standards, but it wants them to be reasonable and workable, which is why it was alarmed by the Codex guidelines.
“Fortunately, Health Canada did manage to convince the Codex process that we were being a bit hasty,” said Abel.
Russia and the European Union had been pushing hard to have the new limits adopted. However, with Health Canada’s intervention, the process has moved from the rubber stamp stage back to the review stage.
Wilson said vomitoxin is becoming a “horrendous problem” around the world.
“This year, the scab and vomitoxin problem in the European Union was so severe they had to change the delivery specs in the Matif contract. That has never happened before,” he said.