A Low-Cost Way to Detect Pesticides in the Food We Eat
It’s no secret that Canada’s food growing system is heavily invested in pesticides. These chemicals are dangerous environmental pollutants because of their long-term effects on living organisms, including humans. Many Canadians try to avoid eating foods grown with pesticides by choosing “organic,” which promises no or extremely low chemical residues.
Now, a CBC News analysis of data from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) reveals these hopes may be misplaced. In its review, CBC News found that nearly half (46 percent) of the organic fruits and vegetables the CFIA tested showed some trace of pesticides. Although these levels were consistently lower than those on non-organic “conventional” fruits and vegetables, 1.8 percent exceeded Canada’s maximum allowable levels, in violation of the law and its intent.
Until recently, measuring the level of pesticide residue in the food we eat has been a difficult process. The current analytic chemistry technology for testing pesticides is problematic. Slow, expensive and labour-intensive, this testing discourages comprehensive food inspection, and instead, puts the emphasis on producer self-reporting.
A New Way to Screen for Pesticides
Now that is changing. Researchers at Camosun College in Victoria, BC are developing new techniques to quickly and reliably screen for pesticides in fruits and vegetables. Funded by a two-year grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and led by research chemist and instructor, Blair Surridge, in partnership with MB Labs of Sidney, BC, the College has acquired an Agilent GC-MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometer). This highly advanced tabletop analytic system enables simultaneous screening for dozens of pesticides on a fruit or vegetable sample.
Surridge and his team are working out the exact parameters of time, detection fibres, and temperature necessary to consistently screen for more than 70 pesticide compounds. Once this standardized library is finished, using this method, industry partners such as MB Labs will be able to detect pesticides in just hours, rather than days, dramatically reducing the time and cost needed to identify residues in food. (Article continues below video.)
Video: Pesticide Detection Research at Camosun College
This automated sample extraction technique also offers new promise for local farmers, distributors, chefs, food service managers, and grocers looking for a simple way to know what is in the foods they process, sell and eat.
Wondering if the apple at the produce market is pesticide-free? On Vancouver Island, the label “pesticide-free” can go from claim to certainty.