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You have probably heard about pesticides, but may have questions about their safety in our food supply. Read on to learn about pesticides, why they are used and their safety.
Pesticides are substances that are used on foods to protect them from diseases and pests. There are different kinds of pesticides that are used for different reasons. For example:
Some pesticides are synthetic (made by humans) and some come from natural sources like bacteria and plants.
Pesticides are used to keep food crops free from disease, bacteria and insects. Without the help of pesticides, food crops could not grow as easily making some fresh fruits and vegetables less available. Pesticides help to grow more food with less waste. This means food costs are lower because more food is available.
Pesticides are used directly on foods like fruits, vegetables and grains. Processed foods like cereals and crackers may have traces of pesticides if they are made with grains that were sprayed with pesticides.
Animal products like meat, dairy and eggs may have traces of pesticides. Pesticides are not directly used on these foods, but the grains that the animals eat are often sprayed with pesticides.
Fish and seafood may also contain traces of pesticides if they are farmed or grown in areas where the water is contaminated by pesticides.
Small amounts of pesticides may stay in or on foods, however, pesticides break down over time. This means very little traces are left on food by the time we eat it.
Yes. Research has been done to make sure that pesticides are safe to use on food crops. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency monitors the amount of pesticides on foods that are produced in Canada and those that are imported. This is done regularly to make sure that only foods with safe levels of pesticides are available.
The maximum amount of pesticides that are allowed to remain on food is set by Health Canada to make sure the foods are safe. This is known as Maximum Residue Limit or MRL. These limits are set for fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products, grains and some processed foods. Pesticide traces on fish in Canada is also regulated for farmed fish and to some extent, the habitats of where wild fish grow.
While we may not know for sure which foods have been sprayed with pesticides and how much residue is left on what we eat, we do know that regulatory agencies in Canada aim to provide safe food for Canadians and encourage the protection of our environment.
Choosing to avoid foods with pesticides is a personal choice. If you want to limit foods grown with synthetic (human made) pesticides, choose organic:
Natural or plant-based pesticides are still used in organic food production. It is not yet known if organic foods are safer than conventional foods that use synthetic pesticides. Organic foods like vegetables and fruit should be washed the same way you would for conventional foods to make sure they are clean and safe to eat.
Organic or not, all vegetables and fruits are part of a healthy, balanced diet. Vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre and many are rich in antioxidants.
Foods that have been treated with pesticides are safe to eat. It is most important to make sure you are getting a variety of foods following Canada’s Food Guide.
Organic Foods and Growing Methods FAQ
Vegetables and fruit food safety facts
Food Handlers Storage Guide
Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide
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Dietitians of Canada acknowledges the financial support of EatRight Ontario by the Ontario government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.