Hazard, risk study helps combat food fear

Should genetically modified products be labelled? Is organic healthier?

Does glyphosate cause cancer? Do you put your kids at risk if you feed them meat or is the cave-man diet the way to go?

All of these questions, and a few conspiracy theories, flood Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools.

Celebrities are using “food fear” to promote themselves, their latest books and their latest lifestyle products. It is a deluge of information and misinformation.

What should consumers really believe? What should we think about when filling our grocery basket?

It boils down to two words: hazard and risk.

It is possible that a meteorite will fall on your head in the next 10 minutes. This is a hazard. But should this hazard dictate what we do every day?

Some might call this is an absurd example, but it is just as real, and more likely, as most of the food fears that people pump out through social media every day.

We deal with hazards practically every day. How we deal with them is determined by the likelihood that something will occur and what can be done to mitigate trouble.

The probability of that meteorite hitting either of us is infinitesimally small (but it is not zero). There is almost no risk so we don’t have to change our lives.

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Crossing the street is a hazardous operation, but we can mitigate this by looking both ways for traffic.

The same principles apply to food. Everything can be a hazard. Drink a lot of water too fast and your electrolyte balance will be upset and you will die.

This is a hazard, but not much of a risk because the problem can be easily avoided.

Feed a rat nothing but raw potatoes for its entire life and it might develop tumours. This shows a hazard, but it is not a complete assessment of risk and does not mean that we need to stop eating potatoes.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has assigned the hazard classification “probably carcinogenic to humans” seventy-nine times, including to shift work, hot beverage and glyphosate.

But we need to remember that “hazard” is only one part of the equation. When we assess risk in our daily lives, we must also consider probability and the ability to take mitigating action.

It is the job of Heath Canada regulators to look beyond potential hazard and protect Canadians through science-based risk assessments.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency employs more than 350 scientists whose sole purpose is to evaluate new and existing insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. The risk, not just the hazards, are assessed.

Glyphosate is the world’s most commonly used pesticide, which might explain why it is a common target for those who want to ban it.

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But how do consumers decide who to believe: the farmer who says it is safe or the activist who wants it banned?

Recently, the PMRA released its re-evaluation of the safety of glyphosate. The work was carried out over seven years and was extensive, including review and incorporation of more than 450 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies.

The PMRA has issued unequivocal findings stating that products containing glyphosate are unlikely to affect your health (when used according to label directions.)

The agency also explained that a hazard classification, such as the one issued by IRAC, is not a health risk assessment.

The level of human exposure, which determines the actual risk, must also be taken into account.

What’s more, on April 12, the Canadian Food inspection Agency released a report on the testing of Canadian food for glyphosate residue. The CFIA’s report, appropriately titled “Safeguarding with Science,” reported, “no human health concerns were identified.”

The work done by Health Canada helps us sort through the conflicting “facts” coming from all sides.

Cam Dahl is president of Cereals Canada.

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  • Harold

    Wow Cam, thanks for the adventure. Cave-man diet, conspiracy theories, food fear, fall on your head, meteorite, crossing the street, drinking a lot of water, feeding a rat potatoes, a farmer who says it is safe, and all of this has something to do with finding glyphosate in our food and this helps determine “safe” levels. Others would call this paper filler in absence of facts.
    I wonder who will be at my home insuring that I am not consuming multiple “safe levels” in my daily consumptions of undisclosed glyphosate residue product. Consuming ten products daily of a ‘safe level” makes me ten times safer or does it increase the dose by ten? Undisclosed and given to faith instead of fact, how will I inform the Doctor and how will the Doctor immediately know to look for glyphosate overdose and not just simply pull out his prescription pad. Perhaps a rat chewing on a potato can tell me. There is a conspiracy to keep information out of the hands of the public. It is not the Public who have chosen to accept undisclosed trace levels of glyphosate in their food. Non disclosure protects the glyphosate industry over and above the wishes of the consumer and to not see this you would have to “fall on your head”. Is this where I look both ways before I cross the street? Science today is no longer science; it is heavily politicized and favorable agenda driven research outcomes receive the funding and therefore scientists are bought and paid for.
    Until the public has absolute access to all agency documents you will not convince me otherwise. It is clear to me that most of the reporters haven’t a clue of what a conspiracy is to even consider what a theory might be. They merely throw the two words together because they don’t understand the content but neither are they given to research or examination; they read what the teleprompter tells them to say or what a prepared corporate handout tells them to say and ask only the prepared questions that they are allowed to ask. None of their reporting can be in conflict with corporate sponsors or government officials or any hand that feeds.
    The article written by Cam Dahl is offensive and paints the consumer as being in a mindless fog and I consider that it is my turn to point to the opposite direction.
    We’ve heard from the invested interests of the President of Cereals Canada. Now let’s hear from the president of I Give a Damn about Canadian Consumers Canada and see if the message changes; that would be the consumer themselves.
    Meat without glyphosate is a “cave-man diet”, is certainly a new one but somehow it is supposed to fit together. Anyone care to insult themselves enough to try and figure this one out? I expect a little more mindfulness from the seat of a president.

  • kural 4s

    Good stuff done by Health Canada regulators.. Informative read