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The National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program

Chemical Residue Annual Reports

An essential priority for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is to protect consumers by safeguarding Canada's food supply. Monitoring the levels of contaminants in the food supply is an extremely valuable tool for the Agency to help ensure Canadians are consuming safe food products. By sampling products and testing for chemical residues the Agency is able to identify and remove contaminants from the food supply. The Agency is also able to utilize the monitoring data to prevent potential health hazards caused by chronic exposure to contaminants. This is done by monitoring areas of concern, examining trends of prevalence and developing effective action plans to deal with health risks. Health Canada is able to conduct re-evaluations for pesticides and other contaminants in the food supply, to modify standards if necessary or verify that standards remain appropriate.

Sample Testing Provides Important Information

The Agency operates a National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program to gather information which can be used to determine the occurrence of contaminants in the food supply. The Agency concentrates its inspection, sampling and testing resources on the food products and contaminants where there is the greatest potential for health risks.

There are approximately 220,000 sample tests conducted annually to monitor the level of contamination in the food supply. Testing is done for a wide variety of contaminants, including veterinary drugs, agricultural chemicals, industrial and environmental pollutants and natural toxins.

The Agency posts technical reports that summarize the results of residue testing of food samples. The monitoring program includes random samples for a wide variety of products, as well as directed sampling for strategically targeted food products and compliance testing of suspected shipments. The reports provide summary information only, which needs to be properly interpreted using accepted statistical and scientific techniques.

Appropriate Action is Taken for Residue Contamination

Every finding of residue contamination in a food product is evaluated to determine if there is a violation of Canadian standards and if the violation poses a potential health risk to consumers. Health Canada conducts risk assessments on contaminants and establishes maximum residue limits, or MRLs, which are the levels considered safe to remain on foods without adverse health effects. A positive test for contamination in a food product does not necessarily indicate a health risk for the consumer. Residue levels at or below the MRLs are in compliance and do not require regulatory action. The Agency takes appropriate action when a violation is identified through more elevated residue findings. These actions include follow-up inspections, further directed sampling according to a surveillance plan, or even seizure and recall of products when the health risk is considered unacceptable. Follow-up actions vary according to the magnitude of the health risk, all with the objective of preventing any repeat occurrence or further distribution of items still in the marketplace.

The Agency enforces the food safety standards set by Health Canada when residue monitoring results indicate a violation of acceptable limits, and is constantly analyzing the effectiveness of corrective actions, policy changes and new regulations. The Agency will use information when there is no immediate health risk associated with a positive test result to build its database on contaminants in the food supply. This information is shared with Health Canada for further analytical consideration, re-evaluation and updating of Canadian standards and MRLs. In fact, on average less than two percent of the thousands of samples tested by the Agency ever exceed the MRLs established by Health Canada. This includes food produced in Canada and imported products from other countries.

Meaningful Food Safety Information Available to the Public

The residue reports are posted as a source of information for the public, media, industry groups and the scientific community. This is one of many efforts the Agency makes to provide meaningful food safety information for Canadians. The Agency encourages the public to utilize the guide on How to Read and Interpret these Tables,.

The residue reports now include results for dioxin and dioxin-like compounds. The Agency is posting all cases when para-dioxins are found as violations, because Food and Drug Regulations indicate a zero tolerance level for chlorinated para-dioxin in food. The results gathered to date show ubiquitous low background levels of dioxin and dioxin-like residues in animal-derived or fat-containing products. Health Canada has determined that these trace amounts do not pose a health risk to consumers. Dioxins are found throughout the environment from both industrial activities and natural sources such as forest fires. The levels found are minute and are consistent with those reported in other countries.

Scientific Resource to Protect the Food Supply

The residue monitoring program is an important scientific resource in the Agency's ongoing efforts to protect the food supply. The information helps the Agency to identify violations and take appropriate action, as well as identify trends in the environment, gauge the effectiveness of control policies and programs and develop strategic plans to minimize potential health risks for Canadians. Making this information open to the public, along with the scientific background explanations, is a commitment of the Agency to enhance consumer awareness in Canada.