Residue testing, traceback critical to Canada’s reputation

Richardson International’s assertion that it can trace grain samples containing pesticide residues back to original producers is a wake-up call for Canadian growers to adhere to proper application procedures.

If this practice becomes widespread among grain companies, it will help protect Canadian producers’ reputation as quality suppliers. It will also reduce the chance that problems with grain shipments exceeding maximum residue limits (MRL) for contamination, which can cause rejection or devaluation of shipments, will arise.

The trace-back ability illustrates a significant commitment on behalf of the grain company, requiring additional storage space for samples and the determination to chase down individual producers.

MRLs for pesticides, particularly glyphosate, are a major concern for exporters, as consumer and activist groups raise alarms — albeit often overreaching — and governments start to listen.

Canada is the world’s most prolific exporter of agricultural products. Canadian wheat goes to more than 70 countries and more than 90 percent of canola grown in Canada is exported.

Yet the MRLs for various pesticides remain a conundrum. The international governing body, Codex, is struggling to keep up, or get caught up, in determining MRLs, so many countries have established their own standards for allowable residue levels, creating a patchwork of regulations worldwide.

In some cases, importers have established stricter MRLs after bending to consumer pressure.

Activist groups today are more readily testing consumer products on their own as testing has becoming more economically viable and more accurate. That’s an issue because some residues can be measured in parts per billion — at minuscule levels that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

As Cereals Canada President Cam Dahl likes to say, one part per billion is equivalent to one second in 32 years.

An export shipment that exceeds allowable residue levels potentially faces rejection at the port of entry, which could mean millions of dollars in expenses to dispose of the grain, or having to accept a lower price for the shipment.

As well, the country of origin will no doubt be on the radar screen for future scrutiny, with less tolerance for exceedances as a result.

Grain associations put a lot of effort into education about MRLs and the use of pesticides, with initiatives such as Keep It Clean.

Farmers are continually urged to use only registered products and to follow label directions, but that doesn’t always happen. Deregistered pesticides are possibly still being used, and applications may still be occurring outside of spraying windows.

Richardson said that even though producers’ grain is co-mingled with others in shipments, the company can determine the origins of the lion’s share of the grain in a particular shipment.

Whether that works as a definitive way to trace a product to a particular farmer is something we will see.

The Canadian Grain Commission tests outgoing grain vessels to ensure residue levels meet levels set by importers, which is a vital part of the process. But as the Canola Council of Canada and the Canadian government have noted, the responsibility for MRLs goes through the value chain, from companies that sell inputs, to growers, crop buyers, exporters and processors.

If each does their part, Canada’s grain will remain the envy of the world and exports will continue to find welcoming markets.

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

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