CFIA glyphosate testing shows Canada’s food is safe

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s tests on glyphosate residues in food show what those who follow the science had expected — Canada’s food is well protected.

Said Aline Dimitri, the CFIA’s deputy chief food safety officer and executive director, “…what this (report) is saying to us is that the Canadian food system is safe.”

But given that glyphosate is now the subject of intense debate — indeed, it can be argued that politics, especially in the European Union, now overshadow the science on glyphosate — it’s essential that reports such as the CFIA’s withstand the microscope of criticism.

In that sense, there are issues.

The CFIA did the responsible thing. It initiated tests on glyphosate residue in food in 2015 after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Heath Organization that co-ordinates research on cancer, classified glyphosate as a “probably carcinogenic to humans.” (It did so emphasizing the laboratory-based “hazard” approach rather than the risk-based approach that considers real-world exposures.)

Because many other scientific agencies did not agree with this conclusion, the debate over glyphosate has simmered. Indeed, a 2016 report issued by the WHO in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization concluded that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”

The science hasn’t changed through numerous studies. Typical lifetime consumption of caffeine is likely to have more toxic effects than expected lifetime exposures to glyphosate through diet.

And considering that the maximum residue limits in Canada are usually set at least 100 times below what can reasonably be expected to have any effect, the CFIA glyphosate report joins the long list of studies that consider it safe for use as directed.

The agency tested 3,188 samples — as it turns out, with an emphasis on imported foods — and found that glyphosate exceeded the MRLs in only 1.3 percent of those samples. Many of those exceedances were in grain. Buckwheat, quinoa, millet, rye, amaranth, barley, rice, spelt, kamut and teff were tested.

However, a glaring omission from grain testing was wheat, oats and corn, all of which are commonly subject to glypho-sate use before harvest.

About 30 million acres of wheat, oats and corn are grown in Canada each year. We now know that testing on flour, oats and corn will be conducted next with results expected in 2018.

Still, given that these crops are ubiquitous in Canadians’ diet, especially as ingredients — as opposed to kamut and teff — their omission in this round of testing is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.

There is also the issue that science is getting better at detecting infinitesimally small glyphosate residues, which can now be identified in parts per billion, a measurement of no significance. It’s more prudent to focus on the MRLs, explaining that some ingredients tested used a “default” MRL of .1 part per million, which itself is 50 times lower than the actual MRL for wheat and 200 times lower than the MRL for soybeans. Detection of residue in these default MRLs is inconsequential.

The context of this report is vital. The CFIA is trusted by Canadians, so officials should provide as much information, in full context, up front.

And farmers should heed the advice of Sask Wheat Chair Bill Gehl, who advised they “tweak” their practices to ensure proper application of glyphosate, especially ensuring that moisture levels are appropriate.

Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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