Ritz questions advice to avoid quinclorac

A former federal agriculture minister can’t fathom why the Canola Council of Canada has advised growers to avoid using quinclorac-based herbicides this year.

Gerry Ritz said the council appears to have abandoned its longstanding policy of making science-based decisions.

He said that undermines the message he delivered to importing countries in his eight years as the man in charge of Canadian agriculture.

“I’ve spent my whole time as minister of agriculture arguing, ‘let’s do this based on science,’ and then my own guys go sideways on me,” said Ritz.

The council issued the warning because no maximum residue limit has been established for the active ingredient in China, which is Canada’s largest canola customer.

However, Ritz said that is the case for dozens of other pesticides Canadian farmers apply to their canola crops. He has seen the results of the Canadian Grain Commission’s test of 124 samples of canola treated with Clever.

“None of them raised any kind of concern,” he said.

The highest level of residue found in any sample was .041 parts per million, which is well below Canada’s MRL of 1.5 p.p.m.

Brian Innes, vice-president of government relations with the Canola Council of Canada, said the test results were concerning enough to merit the warning.

“When quinclorac is sprayed on canola, residues occur the majority of the time,” he said.

Sean Cooper, director of corporate development with Great Northern Growers, which markets Clever, a generic quinclorac product, said that is the case with other pesticides as well.

“If you test canola for glyphosate residues or residues of other herbicides, you will also find those residues most of the time,” he said.

Innes said that is not the case.

“We have not had residues show up in export shipments with the exception of glyphosate,” he said.

Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, said it doesn’t matter that the levels are below Canada’s MRL.

“It isn’t lower than what China has set as an MRL, and that’s the issue,” he said.

China defaults to Codex Alimentarius when it has no MRL, but in this case Codex doesn’t have one either, which means there is zero tolerance for quinclorac.

“We have a great deal of respect for Gerry Ritz, but we are very much trying to take a science-based approach and a risk-based approach and an approach that protects our very important markets for canola,” said Sobkowich.

Ritz was recently in China as part of a delegation that convinced Chinese authorities to delay implementation of a new dockage policy.

While there, he talked about MRLs with officials from China’s equivalent of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“I mentioned quinclorac. They didn’t have a clue what it was or that there was a concern. For them, it’s not an issue,” said Ritz.

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