Pesticides and metals in legume products and vegetable oils – April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020
Food chemistry Targeted surveys – Final report
Targeted surveys provide information on potential food hazards and enhance the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA's) routine monitoring programs. These surveys provide evidence regarding the safety of the food supply, identify potential emerging hazards, and contribute new information and data to food categories where it may be limited or non-existent. They are often used by the agency to focus surveillance on potential areas of higher risk. Surveys can also help to identify trends and provide information about how industry complies with Canadian regulations.
Legumes and vegetable-based products are staple foods consumed by all age groups in CanadaFootnote 1, Footnote 2. These are products of agricultural commodities and may contain pesticide residues introduced from the environment or if the crops were treated with pesticides in the field, during transport and/or during storage to prevent damage from insects, moulds or other pests. These products may also contain levels of metals from environmental sources. Though metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are not permitted to be added to foods, and manufacturers are responsible for measures aimed at reducing accidental introduction of these elements in foods (e.g., from lead solder in steel equipment), their presence is expected in foods, at very low levels, primarily as a result of their natural presence in the environment.
The main objectives of this targeted survey were to generate additional baseline surveillance data on the level of pesticide residues and metal levels in selected legume and vegetable-based foods available on the Canadian market and to compare the detection rates of pesticides in this targeted survey to those recorded in previous surveys.
A total of 2849 samples of legume products and vegetable oils were collected and tested for pesticides and metals. Pesticide residues were detected in 1446 (51%) of the samples.The overall compliance rate for pesticides in products tested in this survey assessed against maximum residue limits (MRLs) established by Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of Health Canada was 97.1%Footnote 3. There were 83 non-compliant results associated with 73 samples. In 31 samples the non-compliance was associated with pesticide residues exceeding the general MRL of 0.1 parts per million (ppm), 52 samples had pesticide levels above the specific established MRLs (0.1 to 5 ppm).
All of the survey samples collected were analysed for a suite of 20 metals. Only the data for metals of highest concern to human health at low levels of exposure are presented in this report, most notably: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. Lead and cadmium had the lowest and the highest overall detection rate, respectively. Oils and shortening were associated with the lowest detection rate, while legume chips and crackers were most often found to contain detected levels of these metals.
There are no maximum limits (MLs) set in Canada for metal levels in the products tested. All data generated were forwarded to Health Canada for human risk assessment and determined to pose no concern to human health. All non-compliant results obtained during the course of these surveys were forwarded to the CFIA's Office of Food Safety and Recall (OFSR). The extent of the follow up actions taken by the agency was based on the level of the contamination and the resulting health concern as determined by a health risk assessment.
What are targeted surveys
Targeted surveys are used by the CFIA to focus its surveillance activities on areas of highest health risk. The information gained from these surveys provides support for the allocation and prioritization of the agency's activities to areas of greater concern. Originally started as a project under the Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP), targeted surveys have been embedded in our regular surveillance activities since 2013. Targeted surveys are a valuable tool for generating information on certain hazards in foods, identifying and characterizing new and emerging hazards, informing trend analysis, prompting and refining health risk assessments, highlighting potential contamination issues, as well as assessing and promoting compliance with Canadian regulations.
Food safety is a shared responsibility. We work with federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments and provide regulatory oversight of the food industry to promote safe handling of foods throughout the food production chain. The food industry and retail sectors in Canada are responsible for the food they produce and sell, while individual consumers are responsible for the safe handling of the food they have in their possession.
Why did we conduct this survey
Chemical hazards in foods can come from a variety of sources. Pesticides may be present as contaminants in the environment or they may be deliberately used by farmers to protect food and crops from pests. Different pest pressures and climatic conditions in food export countries may result in the potential use of pesticides that are not approved for use in Canada, or result in pesticide residues in products that do not meet established Canadian MRLs to be legally sold in CanadaFootnote 3. Inappropriate use of pesticides may pose a health risk to consumers, with the risk dependant on the type of pesticide, its concentration, the effects on the human body, and the length of exposure to the pesticide by the consumer.
Metals are naturally-occurring elements that may be present in very low amounts in rock, water, soil, or air. Therefore, finding these substances in food products is not unexpected as trace levels generally reflect normal accumulation from the environment. They may be present in finished foods due to their presence in the ingredients used to manufacture those foods, and/or may be unintentionally incorporated along the food production chain.
There are a number of metals that may be of concern to human health at certain levels of exposure. Most notably, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury have been shown to have effects on human health, even at low levels of exposure. The results of only these metals of highest concern are presented in this report.
Legume and vegetable-based foods are products of agricultural commodities and may contain pesticide residues introduced from the environment or if the crops were treated with pesticides in the field, during transport and/or during storage to prevent damage from insects, moulds or other pests. The objective of this targeted survey was to obtain additional baseline data on the levels of pesticides, arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in these types of products available on the Canadian market, and to compare the detection rate of pesticides in foods with previous targeted surveys.
What did we sample
A variety of domestic and imported legume (bean, chickpea, lentil and pea) products, legume chips and vegetable oils/shortening available on the Canadian market were sampled between April 1, 2019 and March 21, 2020. Samples of products were collected from local/regional retail locations located in 6 major cities across Canada. These cities encompassed 4 Canadian geographical areas:
- Atlantic (Halifax)
- Quebec (Montreal)
- Ontario (Toronto, Ottawa)
- West (Vancouver, and Calgary)
The number of samples collected from these cities was in proportion to the relative population of the respective areas. The shelf life, storage conditions, and the cost of the food on the open market were not considered in this survey.
|Product type||Number of domestic samples||Number of imported samples||Number of samples of unspecifiedTable Note a origin||Total number of samples|
|Legumes – Bean products||272||144||131||547|
|Legumes – Chickpea products||237||88||125||450|
|Legumes – Lentil products||196||38||105||339|
|Legumes – Pea products||179||68||87||334|
|Legume chips and crackers||4||134||48||186|
|Oils and shortening||68||565||360||993|
How were samples analyzed and assessed
Samples were analyzed by an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited food testing laboratory under contract with the Government of Canada. See Appendix A for a list of the pesticides included in the multi-residue pesticide method. Glyphosate and its metabolite Aminomethylphosphonic Acid (AMPA) were also tested for in this survey using separate methodology, oil and shortening samples were excluded from this analysis. Samples were also subjected to a multi-metal method that analyzes for 20 metals. The data for metals of highest concern to human health at low levels of exposure, most notably: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury, are presented in this report. The results are based on the food products as sold and not necessarily as they would be consumed.
Results were assessed according to Canadian pesticide MRLs, established by the PMRA of Health Canada and appear in their MRL databaseFootnote 3. Pesticide MRLs were applied to the specified raw agricultural commodity as well as to any processed food product that contains the commodity unless otherwise specified. According to section B.15.002 (1) of the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR), in the absence of a specific MRL, residues of a pesticide or other agricultural chemical must not exceed the general MRL of 0.1 ppm.
Contaminants and other adulterating substances in foods have regulatory maximum levels that are established by Health Canada. In the absence of a specific maximum level, they assess the levels of arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead on a case-by-case basis using the most current scientific data available.
What were the survey results
A total of 2849 samples of domestic and imported legume products and vegetable oils were tested for over 480 pesticides in this targeted survey. Pesticide residues were not detected in 1403 (49%) samples. Of the samples with detectable pesticide residues, 99% contained from 1 to 3 pesticide residues per sample. The maximum of 12 pesticide residues per sample occurred in one sample of chickpea flour. A summary of the results by product type can be seen in Table 2.
|Product type||Number of samples||Number (percentage) of samples with detected pesticide residue(s)||Number (percentage) of non-compliant samples|
|Legumes – Bean products||547||270 (49%)||6 (1.1%)|
|Legumes – Chickpea products||450||337 (75%)||24 (5%)|
|Legumes – Lentil products||339||263 (78%)||15 (4%)|
|Legumes – Pea products||334||206 (62%)||13 (4%)|
|Legume chips and crackers||186||151 (81%)||4 (2%)|
|Oils and shorteningTable Note b||993||219 (22%)||11 (1.1%)|
|Total||2849||1446 (51%)||73 (2.9%)|
When evaluated by commodity, the percentage of samples with pesticide residues detected ranged from 81% in legume chips and crackers to 22% in oils and shortening. Glyphosate was the most frequently detected pesticide in most product types. In oils and shortening (not tested for glyphosate), piperonyl butoxide and chlorpyrifos had the highest detection rates. The overall compliance rate for pesticides in the products tested was 97.1%. Compliance was assessed against the MRLs which were in place when the survey was carried out. There were 83 non-compliant results associated with 73 samples. In 31 samples the non-compliance was associated with pesticide residues exceeding the general MRL of 0.1 ppm, 52 samples had pesticide levels above the specific established MRLs (0.1 to 5 ppm). The average amount of residue detected in the non-compliant samples exceeding the general MRL was 0.69 ppm.
Of the 2849 products tested, 2450 samples were conventionally grown and 399 products were labelled as "organic". The detection rates were 54% and 29% respectively, for conventionally grown and organic products. Detailed comparison of pesticide residues detection rates in organic and in conventional products can be seen in Table 3. The average amount of pesticide residues detected in the conventional and organic samples were 0.93 ppm and 0.23 ppm, respectively. Of the 73 non-compliant samples, 13 were organic samples.
|Product type||Number of organic samples||Number (percentage) of organic samples with detected pesticide residue(s)||Number of conventional samples||Number (percentage) of conventional samples with detected pesticide residue(s)|
|Legumes – Bean products||106||14 (13%)||441||256 (58%)|
|Legumes – Chickpea products||75||38 (51%)||375||299 (80%)|
|Legumes – Lentil products||37||15 (41%)||302||248 (82%)|
|Legumes – Pea products||25||11 (44%)||309||195 (63%)|
|Legume chips and crackers||10||5 (50%)||176||146 (83%)|
|Oils and shorteningTable Note c||146||32 (22%)||847||187 (22%)|
|Total||399||115 (29%)||2450||1331 (54%)|
Note: Identification of samples as organic is based solely on the info on the product label
All non-compliant results obtained during the course of these surveys were forwarded to the CFIA's Office of Food Safety and Recall (OFSR). The CFIA conducted appropriate follow up activities to improve compliance which included further testing of similar products in subsequent years.
All of the 2849 samples collected were tested to see the levels of trace elements present. Only the results of the metals of highest human health concern (arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury) are presented in this report (Table 4). Only 26% of the survey samples contained one or more of these four metals, while 6% of the samples contained traces of 2 or 3 metals, and none contained all 4 metals.
|Product type||Number of samples||% positive for arsenic||Average level (range) of arsenic (ppm)||% positive for cadmium||Average level (range) of cadmium (ppm)||% positive for lead||Average level (range) of lead (ppm)||% positive for mercury||Average level (range) of mercury (ppm)|
|Legumes – Bean products||547||3||0.041 (<LOD-0.110)||5||0.026 (<LOD-0.102)||3||0.033 (<LOD-0.075)||6||0.0006 (<LOD-0.0011)|
|Legumes – Chickpea products||450||15||0.041 (<LOD-0.128)||15||0.016 (<LOD-0.027)||5||0.033 (<LOD-0.137)||6||0.0006 (<LOD-0.0009)|
|Legumes – Lentil products||339||2||0.029 (<LOD-0.046)||0.3||0.014 (<LOD-0.014)||7||0.027 (<LOD-0.096)||4||0.0006 (<LOD-0.0008)|
|Legumes – Pea products||334||7||0.033 (<LOD-0.056)||46||0.020 (<LOD-0.070)||2||0.030 (<LOD-0.065)||4||0.0007 (<LOD-0.0019)|
|Legume chips and crackers||186||37||0.060 (<LOD-0.172)||23||0.022 (<LOD-0.048)||3||0.021 (<LOD-0.030)||14||0.0007 (<LOD-0.0011)|
|Oils and shortening||993||5||0.038 (<LOD-0.109)||0||N/A||1||0.138 (<LOD-1.38)||1||0.0006 (<LOD-0.0007)|
|Total||2849||8||0.045 (<LOD-0.172)||10||0.020 (<LOD-0.102)||3||0.046 (<LOD-1.38)||5||0.0006 (<LOD-0.0019)|
<LOD = Below the limit of detection (0.0001 – 0.02 ppm, depending on the laboratory and the analyte)
Note: Average values were calculated using only results for samples with quantifiable metal levels
N/A: not detected
Table 4 illustrates the level of these metals found in the products tested. Lead and cadmium had the lowest and the highest overall detection rate, respectively. Oils and shortening were associated with the lowest detection rate, while legume chips and crackers were most often found to contain detected levels of these metals. As expected, the highest levels of arsenic were found in rice containing products, since rice is known to accumulate arsenicFootnote 4. Although, slightly higher maximum levels of metals were found in certain product types, the average levels of metals were similar for all product categories. These average levels were within concentrations of these metals typically found in soilFootnote 5. There are no regulations in Canada for the levels of these metals in the products tested. Health Canada determined that none of the products posed a health risk to consumers.
What do the survey results mean
Table 5 presents a comparison of the pesticide results for the current and previous targeted surveys for pesticide residues in legume products and oils/products with high fat contentFootnote 6, Footnote 7, Footnote 8, Footnote 9. Although the reported detection rates and non-compliance rates are higher for this survey year, the differences can be attributed to an increase in the method sensitivity and to a larger number of analytes being tested for. The list on analytes was expanded from 144 or 298 (in previous years) to 485 in 2015 and in current fiscal year. In addition, glyphosate, the most frequently detected pesticide in this survey, was not tested for in previous survey years. Consistent with its extensive usage worldwide and in Canada, glyphosate accounted for 43% to 90% of positive results in various product types included in this surveyFootnote 10. When all these differences are considered, the results of this survey are in close agreement with those of previous survey years. Some of the differences observed may also be due to differences in the sample size and the specific type of product tested.
In this survey, highest individual pesticide residue levels were observed for glyphosate in various legume products followed by piperonyl butoxide. Elevated levels of individual pesticide residue levels were also observed in various brands of flaxseed and grapeseed oils. Although these pesticides are permitted on the raw commodity (flaxseeds and grapes) in some cases the detected levels exceeded the MRL due to possible concentration during the processing steps or excessive pesticide application in the field or in storage. The overall pesticide detection rate was still low for this commodity, and lower than the detection rate in oil-based products such as oil-based salad dressings and condiments (mayonnaise) tested in previous survey years.
|Product type||CFIA survey year||Number of samples||Number (percentage) of samples with detected pesticide residue(s)Table Note d||Number (percentage) of non-compliant samples|
|LegumesTable Note e||2015||729||89 (12%)||3 (0.4%)|
|Legumes – Bean products||2019||547||270 (49%)||6 (1.1%)|
|Legumes – Bean productsTable Note e||2014||38||6 (15.8 %)||0 (0)|
|Legumes – Bean productsTable Note e||2013||46||5 (10.9%)||0 (0)|
|Legumes – Bean productsTable Note e||2012||71||8 (11.3%)||1 (1.4%)|
|Legumes – Chickpea products||2019||450||337 (75%)||24 (5%)|
|Legumes – Chickpea productsTable Note e||2014||51||17 (33.3%)||0 (0)|
|Legumes – Chickpea productsTable Note e||2013||53||5 (10.9%)||0 (0)|
|Legumes – Chickpea productsTable Note e||2012||79||3 (3.8%)||0 (0)|
|Legumes – Lentil products||2019||339||263 (78%)||15 (4%)|
|Legumes – Lentil productsTable Note e||2014||36||7 (19.4%)||0 (0)|
|Legumes – Lentil productsTable Note e||2013||45||2 (4.4%)||0 (0)|
|Legumes – Lentil productsTable Note e||2012||71||5 (7.0%)||2 (2.8%)|
|Legumes – Pea products||2019||334||206 (62%)||13 (4%)|
|Legumes – Pea productsTable Note e||2014||34||4 (11.8%)||0 (0)|
|Legumes – Pea productsTable Note e||2013||27||2 (7.4%)||0 (0)|
|Legumes – Pea productsTable Note e||2012||67||13 (19.4%)||0 (0)|
|Legume chips and crackers||2019||186||151 (81%)||4 (2%)|
|Legume chips and crackersTable Note e||2014||12||1 (8%)||0 (0)|
|Oils and shorteningTable Note e||2019||993||219 (22%)||11 (1.1%)|
|Condiments/salad dressingsTable Note f, Table Note e||2014||14||4 (29%)||0 (0)|
|Condiments/salad dressingsTable Note f, Table Note e||2013||18||5 (28%)||1 (5.5%)|
List of analytes (485) included in the Pesticide-GCLC multi-residue pesticide program used by the accredited laboratory in this survey
- Aldicarb Sulfone
- Aldicarb sulfoxide
- BHC Alpha
- BHC beta
- Butocarboxim sulfoxide
- Chlordane cis
- Chlordane trans
- Chlorfenvinphos (e+z)
- Cyfluthrin (I,II,III,IV)
- Dacthal (chlorthal-dimethyl)
- delta-HCH (delta-lindane)
- Demeton-s-methyl sulfone
- Demeton-s-methyl sulfoxide
- Des-ethyl Atrazine
- Diazinon o analogue
- Disulfoton sulfone
- Emamectin B1a
- Emamectin B1b
- Endosulfan alpha
- Endosulfan beta
- Endosulfan sulfate
- Ethiofencarb sulfone
- Ethiofencarb sulfoxide
- Fenamiphos sulfone
- Fenamiphos sulfoxide
- Fenchlorphos (Ronnel)
- Heptachlor epoxide endo
- Lindane (gamma-BHC)
- Methiocarb sulfone
- Methiocarb Sulfoxide
- o,p'-DDD (o,p'-TDE)
- p,p'-DDD (p,p'-TDE)
- Permethrin (Total)
- Phorate sulfone
- Piperonyl butoxide
- Spinosyn A
- Spinosyn D
- Thiofanox sulfone
- Thiofanox sulfoxide
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