Like it or not, the safety of glyphosate is becoming a big issue for agriculture.
Consumers are beginning to have doubts, especially about residue levels, and that’s translating into questions from buyers, one industry insider told a March 24 meeting in Saskatoon.
Speaking at a meeting of the Prairie Grain Development Committee, John Peterson, Richardson International’s vice-president of wheat marketing and hedging said EU grain buyers were asking about glyphosate residues and mycotoxins on Canadian wheat during a new crop mission in November.
“These issues are becoming more and more relevant and more and more prevalent,” he said. “I can’t stress enough that this is going to be something we need to pay attention to.”
In an interview Peterson said Canadian grain does not exceed the allowable levels of glyphosate residue — a point backed up by Randy Dennis, Canada’s chief grain inspector with the Canadian Grain Commission. The commission monitors Canadian grain shipments for pesticide residues.
“The statements of assurance we issue satisfy most international markets that the MRLs (maximum residue levels) we are finding fall within the guidelines that have been set,” Dennis said.
That won’t necessarily quell consumer concerns however, especially as “asynchronous” approvals are fuelling more attention to the issue of residues generally, said another industry insider.
Cam Dahl, Cereals Canada’s president, said concern over pesticide residues appears to be growing.
“Residues in general… are receiving more and more attention around the world,” he said “We are hearing this in some other countries like the high-value Asian markets.
Dahl noted the industry is taking the issue seriously, and his organization launched the ‘Keep it Clean’ initiative to help manage the issue, educate producers and demonstrate to customers it was being taken seriously.
Part of the problem, according to Dahl, is being able to detect residues at such low levels. One part per trillion is equivalent to one second in 32,000 years, he said.
“It’s amazing what you can find, when you test to that level,” he said.
That’s why it’s important for farmers to check with grain buyers and their pesticide retailers before applying new products to their crops, Dahl said. CGC’s Randy Dennis echoed that point in his remarks.
“It’s important for producers to be applying the product based on the manufacturer’s guidelines,” he said.
Last month, a German environmental group said it found traces of glyphosate in Germany’s 14 most popular beers, a potential blow to the country’s reputation for “pure” brewing. Industry and government immediately played down the report from the Munich Environmental Institute.
The Brauer-Bund beer association said the findings, which were based on a small number of samples, were not credible. Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment said the levels did not pose a risk to consumer health.
“An adult would have to drink around 1,000 litres of beer a day to ingest enough quantities to be harmful for health,” it said in a statement.
Canadian maltsters have told growers not to apply glyphosate to malt barley crops prior to harvest because residues can hurt germination, which is key to the malting process. They’ve also said the move will avoid residues in beer.
Some EU members appear to be having second thoughts about glyphosate. The process to renew glyphosate’s EU licence for another 15 years was expected to be rubber-stamped at a meeting earlier this month in Brussels, but Italy, France, Sweden and the Netherlands blocked it.
The European commission might propose to cut the licence’s length, or create a list of “co-formulants” whose use can be limited or banned. Surfactants increase a plant’s uptake of glyphosate, and can be more dangerous than the herbicide alone, they said.
The Netherlands is calling for the relicensing to be completely put on hold, until after a separate evaluation of glyphosate’s toxicity next year.