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Food safety questioned

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An environmental group raises the issue of food safety in Canada

In Canada, we know next to nothing about our food – where it’s grown, how it’s processed, what it contains. We don’t know if it contains genetically modified organisms, or whether the farmer got a fair return on his crops. We don’t know what fertilizers and pesticides were used or in what quantity. We don’t know if the food was tested for toxic substances or harmful bacteria.

Ignorance appears to be bliss.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Environmental Defence Canada has learned that many of our basic foods do not meet the basic safety requirements as spelled out in the Food & Drugs Act.

"Our findings put Canada’s food safety reputation in the Cuisinart," said Burkhard Mausbert, the executive director of Environmental Defence Canada in a news release. "Drug residues in eggs, lead in maple syrup and phenol in honey. Canadians can be excused for skipping breakfast."

Among their findings:

• One in four eggs tested does not meet food safety standards for growth-promoting drugs;

• About 50 per cent of honey imported from the U.S. contains the germicidal cleaner phenol;

• Of the maple syrup tested, 56 per cent contained lead residues;

• One in 20 imported sweet peppers and strawberries exceeds pesticide limits.

The figures were compiled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency from their food monitoring program. According to the EDC, this was only a random inquiry. There may be other foods with various types of contamination.

It’s not that we don’t take food safety seriously in Canada – we did find these problems – it’s the fact that we don’t know what we can do about it that’s so distressing.

Food used to travel from farm to market. These days produce goes from farm to distributor to processor to distributor to market, spending days in refrigeration while travelling thousands of miles. Most of our meat is processed at the slaughterhouse, rather than at your local butcher’s. Processed goods are processed to the point that they can live on the shelf for years.

As a result of this system, our food is open to more contaminants.

"Food moves over greater distances than ever before," said Rod MacRae, a consultant with EDC. "The possibilities for inadvertent contamination are endless."

In other words, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has to work backwards to find out where contamination occurred. In the case of too many growth hormones, it’s easy to pinpoint the grower. In the case of food contamination by bacteria, you have to suspect every part of the chain.

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