Watch what you spray — or the entire grain industry could pay

Grain buyers are testing pesticide residues like never before

Increased residue testing means Canadian grain is facing increased scrutiny abroad, says Canadian Grain Commission assistant chief commissioner Jim Smolik.
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When it comes to pesticide residues, the world is watching like never before.

“Everybody is looking more at food safety and health safety — there’s more scrutiny all the time with all the chemicals that we’re using,” said Jim Smolik, assistant chief commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission.

He cited China as an example. The grain commission randomly samples grain vessels leaving the country for more than 120 different chemicals, but China is testing imports for more than 400 chemicals, Smolik said at the Making the Grade workshop in late July.

And what’s allowed — called maximum residue limits — is also in flux. Some nations use the internationally recognized standard called the Codex Alimentarius, but others don’t.

“As countries choose to follow Codex limits or choose to follow their own, we have to be cognizant that the more we’re finding as far as residues in grain, the more that they’re aware of it as well,” said Smolik. “They have the testing capabilities, and they’re going to continue to test.”

In countries that don’t have a maximum residue limit for certain chemicals, the default will be zero, he said.

“Zero means zero, and it can become hugely costly to the industry if we get locked out of certain countries.”

In the spotlight

This year, producers delivering grain may be asked to declare in writing whether they’ve used quinclorac (the active ingredient in several different herbicides) or chlormequat (the active ingredient in plant growth regulators such as Engage Agro’s Manipulator.)

“With chlormequat, one of the issues is that it just hasn’t got the approvals in the United States yet, so that’s why these companies are asking that you sign that waiver,” said Smolik.

“If they start shipping into the United States and it’s not approved there, it becomes a market access issue.”

Glyphosate is also facing heavier scrutiny after the World Health Organization issued a claim that it is “probably” a carcinogen.

Because of that, producers “have to read and follow label instructions,” said Smolik. Like other chemicals, glyphosate enters and remains in the plant at low levels, and early application of the chemical can compound that.

“Monsanto’s instruction is that anything over 30 per cent head moisture is going to be retained in the seed,” said Smolik. “If you’re spraying, even though the majority of the crop is 30 per cent or under, those areas that are green are certainly not under 30 per cent.

“The application rates and crop maturity are key if you’re going to be applying that.”

And Canada’s trade partners may start pushing maximum residue limits lower and lower if they see increases in residues, said Smolik.

“These are the things that are going to start to impact our ability to sell grain into the world markets,” he said.

“These are all tools that you guys use that are registered in Canada, but if they don’t have approvals in other countries at this point, it becomes a market access issue.”

About the author


Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.



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