Matthew Holmes of COTA Responds to Media Reports about Chemical Pesticides in Organic Foods – December 9, 2011

CFN – Consumers wishing to avoid chemical pesticide residues in food, water and on farms have a simple choice: organic products, the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) said today. Repeated government samplings in North America and Europe have shown organic produce has much lower pesticides residues when compared to non-organic.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) pesticide residue testing results made public this week support the claim that choosing organic reduces consumers’ exposure to unwanted pesticides.

“We think consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it was grown, and what’s in it. Organic does all of that: what it doesn’t do is use the persistent chemicals we don’t think consumers would want in their food.”

“We see that over 560 residues were found on non-organic apples, more than ten times the 52 found on organic apples. That would worry me if I weren’t buying organic,“ said Matthew Holmes, Executive Director of COTA.

Consumers can now be assured that the Government is monitoring organic products—both imports and domestic—thanks to the new Organic Products Regulations published in 2009 and fully implemented in June 2011. This new rule in Canada makes organic products the most regulated and inspected in the country: building on top of all other food safety and regulatory requirements.

“From the types of chemicals we see in this data, it’s clear that this isn’t a case of a farmer abusing the system, but originates from the types of chemical used on non-organic products in post-harvest situations, such as warehousing and shipping,” Holmes said.

As CFIA integrates the new organic rules into its existing testing and inspection systems, it will be able to monitor these sorts of occurrences in the future and find out where they might be happening, to minimize this type of exposure for organic products in the future.

However, Holmes adds:


“it’s not too surprising that we’re seeing some trace amounts of chemical residues. We cannot overlook the fact that these chemicals from industrial agriculture are present in our water, air and soil—that’s why organic agriculture is offering consumers another choice: one that does not contribute to this toxic load in our environment and in our population.”

The Canada Organic Trade Association is the membership-based trade association for the organic sector in Canada, representing growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers’ associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others in the organic value chain. COTA’s mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy.


1. CBC ran a story on trace pesticide residues being found on organic produce between 2009-2010.
2. CBC afternoon ‘drive home’ radio shows across the country had interviews with Matt from COTA and Beth from COG. About 20 afternoon shows were covered, likely reaching hundreds of thousands of Canadian commuters.
3. A number of regional, city, and national TV/radio reporters also visited or spoke with members of the sector: we’ve heard of this in MB, ON, NS, BC and elsewhere. OCO published a press release, and Jodi was interviewed by CBC TV.
4. CBC’s headline evening news program, The National, carried an extended TV piece, which you can view here:
5. CBC also filed a follow-up story with very helpful consumer information on how the organic system works in Canada– this will become their anchor piece for future organic stories, so it’s good to finally see factual, consumer-friendly information captured there
6. So far, most other national news media are not too excited about this story, but COTA is continuing to monitor to see where it goes. The Globe and Mail has not picked it up for their Friday print edition.
7. We know ACORN, MOA, COABC, CHFA, COG, OCO and COTA have been contacted by media, as well as individual retailers, producers and certifiers. Thank to everyone who has helped make this a story about we want to see in our food and environment, and how organic offers that to consumers. Here’s a great video piece from Nova Scotia:
1. The data CBC obtained is very partial and does not tell us very much at all. In one table is compared some organic apples to conventional apples (organic over-sampled) and finds that 42 organic apples out of a total sample of 599 has some trace residues. It does not tell us residues for what. What it does tell us is that organic made up 14% of the positives, and conventional made up 85% of the positives. It also shows us that the conventional apples contained 567 residues, while organic only had 52. Therefore, with minimal data, this tells us that — very much like other data in the US and EU — organic produce is consistently found to have much lower levels of synthetic chemical pesticide residues than non-organic produce. These are sampled from both Canadian and imported apples.
2. The second data set only shows organic positives in spot samples. It shows the amounts of prohibited substances are trace, and at very very low levels. This data does not compare to any negatives, nor to any non-organics, so there is no way to conclude that this is a high number of positives or not. The chemicals found are basically post-harvest treatments (e.g. fruit dips, waxes, fungicide for packing crates for non-organic produce).  It is clearly the result of cross-contamination during storage, shipping or packing.
3. The data was collected before Canada’s Organic Products Regulations were fully implemented in June 2011. The CFIA has been working diligently since 2009 to train its inspectors and integrate organic into its internal systems and protocols. This data pre-dates the end of the Stream of Commerce period.
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