This post was sponsored by CropLife Canada who represent developers, manufacturers and distributors of pest control and modern plant breeding products, however any opinions held within it are 100% my own. And the facts are just that, facts!
I recently wrote about how my experience learning from agriculture experts has helped me become a better food communicator. Part of my excitement in working with CropLife Canada, involves sharing the recipes I developed for the From Farm to Food recipe book (Apple Pie Smoothie recipe below!), but in truth, an even bigger part is having a platform to share what I’ve learned about modern agriculture…with you!
As always, it’s mine and Dara’s mission to help you relax about your food and enjoy a healthy, fulfilling relationship with it. Part of that is knowing that you can feel safe about the food choices you’re making.
Now when I consider the early days of my agriculture learning journey, one of the very first things I questioned was, why on earth farmers would use pesticides?
Like many people, I took the word and the concept of pesticides to mean something dangerous, even evil. I heard ‘pesticide’ and saw flashes of the skull and crossbones. I pictured greedy corporate types twiddling their fingers in a boardroom while preying on innocent farmers, tricking them into buying dangerous and expensive chemicals.
What I pictured was something that I realize now, was sold to me. By a segment of the food industry which benefits from selling a fear of pesticides. There is a lot of misinformation out there friends, but when it comes to food marketing, using fear is the big hot, unfortunate trend.
So I say let’s skip the fear. And back up a little…
What is a pesticide?
The term pesticide is a blanket terms used for all manner of pest control. Pesticides include insecticides (work to get rid of pests like bugs, flies, worms), herbicides (weeds), fungicides (fungus), rodenticide (ick. rats!) and antimicrobials and sanitizers. Pool chemicals, along with flea and tick medication for our pets all fit into this category.
How do they benefit me?
Pesticides used in food production are useful in a number ways. First, they help farmers protect their crops, and in turn their livelihood, as some pests have the potential to wipe out entire crops. This would be akin to your entire year’s salary being eaten by termites…while you watched. Second, they help improve the quality (ahem, no wormy apples) and quantity of food grown.
Not only does this help our hardworking Canadian farmers run a viable business, but it also keeps food costs down for Canadian consumers (and apples in pristine grocery store condition). In fact it’s estimated Canadians save around $4000 per year because farmers have access to crop protection tools like pesticides. That is SO MUCH MONEY.
Aren’t there other pest control methods?
Yup! Pesticides can be essential for many growers to have a successful harvest, but they are only one tool in a system that all farmers use called integrated pest management.
This means they monitor their crops frequently to see if there are any signs of pest issues before they act. If they detect a threatening insect, weed or disease in the crop, they look at all the options available to them and consider what’s best to keep the crop healthy and viable. Sometimes it means using a biological control (another insect or bacteria), a habitat change (changing irrigation/ watering practices), a mechanical control (netting/ traps), and sometimes, a pesticide.
Apples, for example, are susceptible to a variety of different pests, but farmers do not indiscriminately spray their apple orchards with pesticides. In general, spraying is expensive from a product cost and labour perspective. They evaluate the need to keep the crop and the bottom line healthy every single day.
Aren’t pesticides just toxic man-made chemicals?
Pesticides can be synthetic (man made) or naturally derived. This in itself does not affect the toxicity of the pesticide. In fact many naturally derived pesticides have been phased out in favour of newer synthetic ones which are far less toxic.
Now, for something to be toxic, the dose must reach a certain threshold where it would cause damage.
Here is a list of potentially toxic compounds:
- table salt
Each of these, some more obvious than others, can be toxic. But once you reach the bottom of the list, it becomes clear that the dose of the compound counts. A lot! While water (and in my case, caffeine) are essential to life, if you were to drink too much, it would be ‘toxic’.
How are these ‘toxic’ chemicals regulated?
Our Health Canada standards for pesticide residues on food (the pesticides that have the potential to reach you, as a consumer) are set at levels that are between 100-1000 times below the limit where there is any suspicion of toxicity if the product were consumed every single day over an entire lifetime.
In other words, the regulations are damn stringent. In fact, pesticides need to be evaluated for human, animal and environmental safety and are just as rigorously tested as pharmaceuticals. It also takes about a dozen years and over $300 million dollars for one new pesticide to make it through the research, development and regulatory process to the market.
Who’s keeping track of these ‘residues’?
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for monitoring and enforcing residue limits. Over the last 10 years, they report the compliance rate for fresh fruit and vegetables, where you would be most likely to encounter residue, is consistently high.
Over 99% of Canadian and imported fruits and vegetables were tested well below the (very conservative) Canadian residue limits. In fact, there were no residues found in over 90% of fruits and vegetables.
Now it’s important to note that testing sensitivity is becoming more and more sophisticated as technology evolves. Claims about residues found in food in infinitely small amounts have been making big headlines. An example of this is the ‘dirty dozen’ list published yearly by the Environmental Working Group as a guide to avoiding fruits and vegetables with the ‘most’ pesticide residue. However, just because a residue is detectable, does not mean it has any meaningful impact on health or safety whatsoever. The vegetables with the ‘most’ residues all fall far, far, FAR below the Canadian standards. Again, the poison in the in the dose.
- There is so much to talk about when it comes to modern agriculture, but for now, let’s shelf the idea that pesticide = evil.
- Pesticides are one tool farmers use to ensure a healthy, abundant and affordable crop for Canadians. Remember…$4000!
- Using today’s regulatory standards, there is no evidence to indicate that there is a health risk from eating food produced with the help of pesticides.
- Be aware that food marketing may try to convince you otherwise using unscientific means and fear mongering tactics.
- At the end of the day, you can relax knowing that the food you’re eating in Canada is safe and nutritious.
Now, why don’t you enjoy a nice cool Apple Pie Smoothie using perfect, in-season Canadian apples?