Is it grumpiness with age or has mediocrity won PR (or both)

My friend Jim Romahn has been reporting on agriculture in Canada since federal Ag Minister Eugene Whelan started wearing green Stetsons.

Jim used to write speeches for Gene.

And he’s getting snarkier.

I know the feeling.

Jim writes the U.S. Department of Agriculture is adopting a new multi-testing system for meat that will make it much more difficult to sneak illegal residues into the country.

But the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is, once again, lagging behind.

When I asked if the CFIA is aware of the U.S. change and whether it’s doing anything similar, I got a nifty dissembling spin-doctored response.

Yes, the CFIA said, it’s aware of the U.S. move.

Yes, it said, it tests meat, poultry and eggs for more than 300 chemicals.

And yes, it is using a multi-residue test.

However, that multi-residue test is limited to about 30 antibiotics. That’s nowhere close to what the U.S. is now doing.

The single-sample testing the U.S. is implementing is for antibiotics, metals and growth promotants.

In the past, meat could sneak by if the sample was tested for one chemical or for one type of residue, such as antimicrobials. Not now.

When it comes to food safety and integrity, the CFIA just says Canada has the highest standards in the world, and one of the best inspection systems in the world. It’s just hot air, folks.

New Zealand fruit and vegetable safety – good, but we’ll make sure we do better

Every time there is a food safety outbreak with fresh fruits and vegetables, some journalist or lobby group will call up and say something like, “we want to do some sampling for E. coli or Salmonella and fresh produce.”

And every time, Chapman or I will walk the person through the limitations with testing, especially in fresh produce.

New studies by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) highlight the limitations. In one, two out of 900 samples tested positive for Salmonella in lettuce, both from lettuces from the same grower.

In a related study, none of the chemical residues detected were of health concern, although NZFSA principal advisor for chemicals Dr Paul Dansted says he is disappointed with results from this year’s Food Residue Surveillance Programme (FRSP), which targets food likely to show up problems. This year’s focus was on spinach, celery, ginger and garlic.

“A significant number of samples had levels over the maximum residue limit (MRL) which is used for monitoring purposes, but it’s important to stress that dietary intake assessments on the non-compliant food showed none posed a health or food safety concern.”

Eight out of 27 celery samples and four out of 24 spinach samples had residues that were over the limit. There were none over the limit in 50 samples of garlic, but ginger had 11 samples out of 39 over the limit.

“Celery and spinach can be more vulnerable to persistence of chemical residues,” Dr Dansted says. “Because of their shape, residues that wash off in the rain can collect in the base of the plant. We expected to find some problems, but this is not good enough. We will take regulatory action to ensure better compliance in future.”

Properly structured sampling programs are essential to validate that food safety programs are working. But testing is not enough.