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Maximum residue limits problematic for Canadian growers

Maximum residue limits are proving problematic for Canadian growers, as the test, which should be used for regulating trade, is in fact being treated as a verdict on food safety.

In the past 25 years, agriculture has seen the full gamut of new programs from environmental farm plans to neonicotinoid-use restrictions in Ontario. Some are relatively farm friendly, some less so.

Like them or hate them, they’re all meant to be in the name of sustainability, traceability and food safety and security, which are under the watchful gaze of an increasingly urban population.

Now add one more set of guidelines to that list: maximum residue limits (MRLs). Unlike the others, which are imposed at the farm level, MRLs are creating confusion on an international stage and have garnered more attention in light of recent trade agreements. In spite of the potential benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Comprehensive Economics and Trade Agreement (CETA), there is also the opportunity for trade disruptions from MRL-based disputes.

There are two primary issues. One is the establishment of tolerance levels for registered chemistries, and the other is the backlog of registrations before Codex Alimentarius, a combined agency of the World Health Organization and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The first issue brings into play the science of detection, which has become finer and finer over the past 30 years, so we can often measure in parts per trillion today, not just parts per million.

Despite that evolution, however, many of the countries Canada trades with still apply strict zero tolerances, making trade standards unpredictable and a stumbling block in trade relations.

The second component involves Codex and its near-four-year backlog, which can also create significant barriers to trade. In that four-year period, countries might be trading commodities based on mutually agreed standards, yet Codex could establish a different MRL, thereby putting their inventories at risk.

It’s also worth noting that the maximum residue limits play a larger role in trade relations and negotiations on the horticultural side of agriculture. 

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