This Web page has been archived on the Web.

Chemical residues on imported fruit, vegetables, and milk

Petition: No. 198

Issue(s): Agriculture, compliance and enforcement, human health/environmental health, pesticides, and toxic substances

Petitioner(s): Ralph Ferguson

Date Received: 19 April 2007

Status: Completed

Summary: The petition alleges that the government is allowing imported fruit, vegetables, and milk to enter Canada with residues of chemicals that are banned in Canada. These banned chemicals are either known or suspected carcinogens. The petitioner asks the responsible departments to effectively test food products from any nation using chemicals that are banned in Canada, and, where such chemicals are identified, prohibit import of the products.

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, Foreign Affairs and International Trade—Department of [2006-present], Health Canada

Petition

April 10, 2007

Mr. Ron Thompson, FCA
Office of the Auditor General of Canada
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Attention: Roger B. Hillier, Petitions Manager
240 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Commissioner:

We, the undersigned, request that you accept this petition in regard to a) chemicals contained in some food products imported into Canada from other countries, some of these chemicals being banned in Canada, and b) sanitary standards in which these products are produced and processed, and packaged.

Following a Community Cancer Survey and Study into the increased incidence of cancer among children and adults in three municipalities in southwestern Ontario, we suspect that the chemical residue on some foods may be a contributing factor, especially among our area's children.

In a report of the Environment Committee of the House of Commons a few years ago chaired by the Hon. Charles Caccia, it was noted that twelve chemicals used in food production of other countries were banned in Canada. A similar study by [name and position withheld] listed seventeen such chemicals that were banned in the U.S.A.

One only has to walk through most grocery stores to see fruits and vegetables from countries such as the U.S.A., Mexico, Peru and Chile. A few weeks ago, lettuce from California was found to be contaminated with E Coli.

More recently, we became aware that large quantities of milk and milk products are being imported at the Sarnia-Port Huron border crossing. We have been advised by people in the Ontario dairy industry that, although the use of rbST is banned in Canada, it is still being used in the U.S.A. Consequently, the milk being imported into Canada may contain residue of rbST.

This substance was approved several years ago by Health Canada. Later, Senator Eugene Whelan held hearings in the Senate and based on research done by [name and position withheld], Health Canada re-imposed the ban. The research proved that when this substance was injected into dairy cows, it reappeared in the milk and increased the insulin growth factor in the small intestines of the children drinking the milk and could produce cancers.

Please find attached* a news item published on March 6, 2007 which documents the volume of milk being imported into southwestern Ontario from Michigan, U.S.A.

It is also noteworthy that on its website, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency acknowledges that while "made in Canada" and "products of Canada" imply that a food was manufactured in this country, these statements do not necessarily mean that all or even most of the ingredients used are produced in Canada e.g.) orange juice labeled "product of Canada."

We are also aware that honey is being imported in barrels from the Ukraine and China, is repackaged in Canada and marketed as a product of Canada. Some of these shipments contain traces of chloramphenicol. Also, we are aware that apple juice concentrates are imported from China; water is added; the product is packaged or bottled and then, sold as a product of Canada.

On its website, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency indicates that food and food products purchased from other countries, through mail-order or the Internet, are not always produced using the same manufacturing and labeling standards as in Canada.

We urge that the Canadian Government take decisive steps to ensure that any food being imported into this country meets the rigorous standards which Canadians expect and deserve. We believe that the health of our nation depends upon it. The current double standard now existing must be stopped.

We ask the question that in view of the fact that large quantities of milk are being imported into Canada, milk that may contain residues of rbST, milk that may be used in further processed products, will Agriculture Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency either ban these dairy products from entering Canada, or test all U.S.A. dairy products at the border and test the dairy herds producing the milk?

We also ask why some products such as the honey imported from China, containing chemicals such as chloramphenicol are repackaged in Canada, and sold as a product of Canada?

Why are Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency allowing this to happen?

Why are the Minister of Health and Minister of International Trade permitting this importation of products that do not measure up to Canadian Standards?

We ask that the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Health, and the Minister of International Trade ban the importation of any food products from any nation using chemicals that are banned in Canada.

Question to the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health: Are all food processing facilities in other countries involved in producing food to be exported to Canada inspected by Canadian personnel? Are all food products entering Canada from other countries inspected prior to being sold to Canadian consumers?

Sincerely,

[Original signed by Ralph Ferguson]

Hon. Ralph Ferguson

*[attachment not posted]

[top of page]

Joint Response: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade - Department of [2006-present], Health Canada

24 August 2007

The Honourable Ralph Ferguson, PC
RR7
Watford, Ontario
N0M 2S0

Dear Mr. Ferguson:

Thank you for your environmental petition, numbered 198, entitled "Chemicals contained in food products imported into Canada and the sanitary standards in which they are produced, processed and packaged." On May 4, 2007, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development forwarded the petition to me as well as to the ministers of Health and International Trade.

In your petition, you posed questions under the Auditor General Act with regard to the chemicals contained in imported food products and the sanitary standards used in their manufacture. We have considered your questions and have responded to them in the order in which they were presented. I am pleased to provide you with the enclosed Government of Canada response to your petition.

The Government appreciates your interest in this important matter and trusts that this information will be of assistance to you.

[Original signed by Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board]

Sincerely

Gerry Ritz Enclosure

c.c.:

The Honourable Tony Clement, PC, MP
The Honourable David Emerson, PC, MP
Mr. Ron Thompson, FCA


RESPONSE OF THE FEDERAL DEPARTMENTS AND
AGENCIES TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL PETITION 198 FILED
MAY 4, 2007, BY THE HONOURABLE RALPH FERGUSON
UNDER THE
AUDITOR GENERAL ACT:

Chemicals contained in food products imported into Canada and the sanitary standards in which they are produced, processed and packaged

September 1, 2007

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Minister of Health
Minister of International Trade

Table of Contents

Background

Response to Petitioner's Questions

Question 1

1

Question 2

2

Question 3

3

Question 4

3

Question 5

4

Question 6

4

Background

On April 17, 2007, the Honourable Ralph Ferguson (hereinafter referred to as the Petitioner) filed Petition 198 (hereinafter referred to as the Petition) with the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, pursuant to Section 22 of the Auditor General Act. The Petition contains questions relating to chemicals contained in food products imported into Canada and the sanitary standards in which they are produced, processed and packaged.

The Petition was sent by the Office of the Auditor General to the petitioned Ministers on May 4, 2007. For this reason, the 120 days allowed for the Government of Canada to respond to the Petition, as expressed in the Auditor General Act, began on May 4, 2007.

The Petition process set out in Section 22 of the Auditor General Act is a means by which Canadians can express their views while seeking more information on matters of federal policy in the context of the environment and sustainable development. The Government of Canada wishes to assure the Petitioner and other Canadians that responsible stewardship of human health, animal health, biodiversity, and the environment is of priority to the Government of Canada.

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development forwarded the Petition to the following Ministers for response:

    Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
    Minister of Health
    Minister of International Trade

The joint response provided by the Ministers of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Health and International Trade reflects the roles and responsibilities of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Health Canada and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in the context of this matter.


RESPONSE OF THE FEDERAL DEPARTMENTS AND
AGENCIES TO ENVIRONMENTAL PETITION 198 FILED
BY THE HONOURABLE RALPH FERGUSON UNDER THE
AUDITOR GENERAL ACT (RECEIVED MAY 4, 2007):

Chemicals contained in food products imported into Canada and the
sanitary standards in which they are produced, processed and packaged

September 1, 2007

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Minister of Health
Minister of International Trade

1. In view of the fact that large quantities of milk are being imported into Canada, milk that may contain residues of rbST, milk that may be used in further processed products, will Agriculture Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency either ban these dairy products from entering Canada, or test all USA dairy products at the border and test the dairy herds producing the milk?

At the federal level in Canada, the safety of the food supply is a shared responsibility between Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Health Canada is responsible for establishing policies, setting standards and providing advice and information on the safety and nutritional value of all foods sold in Canada.

The CFIA is responsible for providing all federal inspection services related to domestic and imported foods sold in Canada. This responsibility includes enforcing federal food safety policies and standards established by Health Canada, and taking enforcement action when standards are not met, or when health risks are identified.

After many years of extensive review of data provided by the manufacturer of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) otherwise known as bovine growth hormone, Health Canada determined that the submission of rbST for approval did not comply with the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, due to concerns with the welfare of animals. Therefore, Health Canada does not allow and has never permitted the sale of this product in Canada.

This decision was based on Health Canada's review of scientific data and on the recommendation of two independent expert panels. One of the panels, established by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to assess the safety of the product, did not identify any human health concerns associated with the consumption of milk or dairy products derived from rbST-treated cows. The other panel, established by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, believed that there were legitimate animal welfare concerns associated with the use of rbST.

It should be noted that although rbST is not approved for use in dairy cattle in Canada, Health Canada's review did not find any evidence of cancer risk relating to the increased levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in food products derived from rbST-treated dairy cattle. Moreover, there was no evidence of an increase in total Bovine Somatotropin (bST) concentration in milk whether the cows had been treated with rbST or not.

Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a naturally occurring protein produced by the pituitary gland in cattle. Tests cannot determine whether rbST has been administered to dairy cows, as there are no ways of differentiating between the artificial and naturally occurring forms of the hormone.

Given that Health Canada has not identified concerns about residues in foods for human consumption, any actions to restrict importation of dairy products from the U.S. are considered to be unnecessary.

2. Why are some products such as the honey imported from China, containing chemicals such as chloramphenicol, repackaged in Canada, and sold as a product of Canada? Why is Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency allowing this to happen?

When imported honey is repackaged in Canada in a federally-registered honey establishment, the Honey Regulations require the container to be marked with the name of the country of origin preceded by the words "Product of ". In the case of imported honey blended with Canadian honey, the container shall be marked with the words "A Blend of Canadian and (naming the source or sources) Honey", the sources being named in descending order of their proportions.

Each lot of honey imported into Canada from China is detained by the CFIA and withheld from sale until laboratory analysis, carried out at the expense of the importer, proves that the honey does not contain chloramphenicol or other violative veterinary drug residues. The honey lot is released from detention only after the inspector receives satisfactory lab results and any honey that is found to contain chloramphenicol residue is either destroyed, or returned to the country of origin.

3. Why are the Minister of Health and the Minister of International Trade permitting this importation of products that do not measure up to Canadian Standards?

In order to ensure consumer confidence in Canadian food safety, Health Canada sets maximum residue limits (MRLs) or safe amounts of drug residues that could remain in food products derived from food-producing animals that have been treated with approved veterinary drugs. These levels are considered to pose no adverse health effects if ingested daily by humans over a lifetime. However, when unapproved drugs are used, MRLs have not been established by Health Canada. The detection of these violative residues in foodstuff triggers regulatory action, including enforcement procedures.

It should be noted that the import and export of food products does not fall under the mandate of the Minister of International Trade.

4. We ask the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Health and the Minister of International Trade to ban the importation of any food products from any nation using chemicals that are banned in Canada.

As mentioned above, the safety of Canada's food supply is a shared responsibility between Health Canada and the CFIA; the import and export of food products does not fall under the mandate of the Minister of International Trade.

Health Canada is responsible for setting food safety standards. When the CFIA detects residues of a banned substance in food being sold or imported into Canada through its National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program, a health risk assessment (HRA) is undertaken. Based on the outcome of the HRA appropriate enforcement action is taken, up to and including a recall on the affected product.

All food sold in Canada, whether imported or produced domestically, is required to comply with Canadian standards, including those contained in the Food and Drugs Act or the Food and Drug Regulations. For example, chloramphenicol is banned for use in food-producing animals in Canada as it is in a number of other countries. Therefore, the importation for sale of any food product containing chloramphenicol is not permitted. However, if chloramphenicol is detected in any food product, the CFIA takes the necessary action to protect consumers, which may include recalls of the contaminated food product.

5. Question to the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health: Are all food processing facilities in other countries involved in producing food to be exported to Canada, inspected by Canadian personnel?

Food safety standards are established by Health Canada and apply to all foods sold in Canada, whether imported or domestic. Importers are responsible for the safety of foods that they import into Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) verifies that manufacturers and importers are fulfilling their food safety obligations, and it takes enforcement measures when required.

Canada's import inspection programs are based on internationally recognized standards and principles and are comparable to the import inspection systems of other developed countries, such as the U.S. The CFIA also works with other governments to verify that food products exported to Canada meet Canadian food safety requirements. If the CFIA identifies products that do not meet regulatory requirements, enforcement action is taken and can take on a number of forms, up to and including prosecution.

Tests are conducted for a wide range of chemical and biological contaminants in imported and domestically produced food products, such as veterinary drug residues, pesticides, metals, bacterial pathogens, viruses, marine toxins, and additives. When violations are identified, appropriate actions are taken, which may include a food recall.

Canada does not have a program in place to inspect processing facilities in other countries involved in producing food to be exported to Canada. Products are normally subject to inspection by authorities in the exporting country. The CFIA does, however, require in some cases permits and/or certificates, and import declarations which are signed by authorities to indicate that the product meets the required import provisions.

Based on a history of compliance associated with importers and products, products from a particular country or region may be subject to increased verification and inspection. Where non-compliance is determined, products from specific exporters may be targeted until the problem is resolved.

6. Question to the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health: Are all food products entering Canada from other countries inspected prior to being sold to Canadian Consumers?

Food safety standards that are established under the Food and Drugs Act and the Food and Drug Regulations by Health Canada are enforced by the CFIA and apply to all foods sold in Canada, whether produced domestically or imported. Depending on the commodity being imported, additional requirements, such as those under the Meat Inspection Act, the Fish Inspection Act and the Canada Agricultural Products Act may have to be met.

Under the National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program, the CFIA samples and tests both imported and domestic foods and prioritizes the work on the basis of estimated risk. Program results show a high rate of compliance for both imported and domestic foods.

As mentioned in the response to question #5, Canada's import inspection programs are based on internationally recognized standards and principles and are comparable to the import inspection systems of other developed countries, such as the U.S. The CFIA also works with other governments to verify that food products exported to Canada meet Canadian food safety requirements. If the CFIA identifies products that do not meet regulatory requirements, enforcement action is taken and can take on a number of forms, up to and including prosecution.

[top of page]

Minister's Response: Canada Border Services Agency

7 September 2007

The Honourable Ralph Ferguson, P.C.
R.R. # 7
Watford, Ontario
N0M 2S0

Dear Mr. Ferguson:

The purpose of this letter is to provide a response to the following question raised in your Environmental Petition 198, filed with the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD), as per specifications of the Auditor General Act: "How is it that food products containing Canadian banned chemicals, and food products which are produced, processed, and/or packaged in countries not meeting Canadian sanitary standards are allowed to be imported and possibly sold in Canada?"

While the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is responsible for the inspection of food products presented at a port of entry, the regulations controlling which food products warrant further inspection, or are prohibited from entry, fall under the mandate of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Within this context, the CBSA is therefore enforcing and adhering to another government department's legislation. This directly affects the methodology of inspection and dictates the circumstances under which enforcement is carried out.

For this reason, questions regarding the administration of this legislation should be addressed to the CFIA.

I appreciate you bringing your concerns on this important matter to my attention.

Yours sincerely,

[Original signed by Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety]

Stockwell Day, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Public Safety

c.c.:

Mr. Ronald C. Thompson, FCA, Interim Commissioner
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Mr. Alain Jolicoeur, President
Canada Border Services Agency