Despite the many efforts from the strawberry producers in Quebec to distance themselves from the American strawberries which rank among the most highly contaminated by pesticide residues, the majority of strawberry samples from Quebec analyzed in recent years by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) also contain some.
For a while, the MAPAQ refused to release its report on the presence of pesticides in fruits and vegetables, a choice strongly criticized by the citizens. Since 2016, the MAPAQ has released a partial database reporting the results of tests carried out on strawberry samples between 2007 and 2016.
As a result, 81% of the strawberry samples analyzed contained residues of at least one pesticide. 17% contained more than five different pesticides. Of all the pesticide residues found in the strawberries, 14 are possible or probable carcinogens, including captan, bifenthrin and tetraconazole. All are fungicides. Of the 211 samples analyzed, in only one case (0.47%), the maximum limit of pesticide residues set by Health Canada was exceeded.
These partial results give rise to a number of questions. “Why stop counting after 5 residues? Would it be possible to access the entire database? We do not know how many times these individual products have been tested beyond the maximum authorized values,” according to Onil Samuel, scientific consultant at the Quebec National Institute of Public Health. “Even if we respect the risk levels, some products have potential toxic effects. A dozen [of them] are possible or probable carcinogens, and affect the endocrine system, for example.”
For their part, the Quebec producers claim that their products do not present any health risk because the maximum limits of pesticide residues are set by Health Canada.
The non-independent aspect of these studies is criticized by Maryse Bouchard, professor at the Department of Environmental Health of the University of Montreal and Occupational Health CHU Sainte-Justine. “We know that most of the studies used by Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency to set the maximum limits of pesticide residues are industry-based. Such a lack of independence is not desirable. There is a potential bias since there are all sorts of ways to conduct studies. Some methodological choices may not reveal some effects that would otherwise be observed.”
It is recommended to wash strawberries thoroughly under running water before consuming them in order to eliminate as many traces of pesticides as possible.