Facebook question: Is Canadian or American produce safer?

Courtesy www.rgbstock.com - Lusi

Courtesy www.rgbstock.com – Lusi

“I always like to hear about Canadian food topics -like the fact that Canadian potatoes are grown with much less chemicals than U.S. potatoes and probably shouldn’t be considered part of the dirty dozen. I feel like there’s a lot of misinformation out there that we’re getting from American media that doesn’t apply to the way Canadian food is grown or produced – at least I’m hopeful that our government protects us a bit more?” requests  Enlightened Eater Facebook fan, Erin Hall Holland.

Erin,  that’s a  tough question to answer but when it comes to conventional produce, there may not be that many differences.  But there are areas, such as dairy farming, where we certainly do have more protection here north of the border.

When we look at pesticide residues in Canada and the U.S., with some produce, such as sweet bell peppers, Canadian offerings have been shown to contain just over half of what’s found in U.S. grown ones. But truth be told, many fruits and vegetables from Canada rank similarly when it comes to pesticide residues.

As for potatoes, a study conducted to detect  pesticides looked at 228 samples of fresh potatoes  from 34 farmers’ markets in Alberta. The samples  were analyzed for 29 pesticides.   The good news is that all pesticide concentrations were below Canadian maximum residue limits  established for potatoes. And there were no pesticide residues  detected in 23 potato samples obtained from certified organic farmers.

U.S. figures have also shown pesticide residues to come in at acceptable levels.

So then, you might ask how they made it to the “dirty dozen”. According to an article, Going Organic, What’s the Payoff?,  published in the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Nutrition Action Letter, imported produce may be skewing the results.

Dr. Charles Benbrook, Ph.D.,  a research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, developed a way to score the risk for pesticides called Dietary Risk Index (DRI). It compares the average pesticide levels found on a food to the maximum levels that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regards as safe. (When those levels are equal, the DRI is 100.)

This measure take into consideration  the average pesticide residue levels in an edible portion of a food, the toxicity of each pesticide, and how frequently residues are present.  In the article, he states, “The last time the  U.S. government analyzed domestic and  imported peaches for pesticides was in  2008, for example. If you calculate the DRIs for each sample it tested, 98 of the 100 most risky peach samples were imported from Chile, one was from Argentina, and the other was from the United States. Of the100 peaches with the lowest DRIs, 99 were grown in the U.S.

So if I were a U.S. or Canadian peach  grower and saw peaches high on a dirty
dozen list, I would be pretty upset.”

One area where  our government  has stepped up and offered Canadians more protection is the safety of dairy products. In the U.S., a hormone called bovine somatotropin or bovine somatotrophin ( bST and BST),   is used to increase  the  milk yield in lactating cows.   Canada, along with other countries such as Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and all EU  countries  do not allow the use of this hormone.

Its use has prompted many Americans to use organic and BST-free dairy products.

But there are still issues with food safety in our country. The widespread beef recalls of last year are proof positive of this.

Are you concerned with food safety issues? Please share them in the comment section below.

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Categories: Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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