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Agriculture This Week - Trace back has more than food safety aspect

The concept of being able to trace a sample of grain back to the farm long after it has been in the grain handling system is an intriguing one.

The concept of being able to trace a sample of grain back to the farm long after it has been in the grain handling system is an intriguing one.
On the one hand such a system would seem to be something that once fully achieved will ensure a safer food supply, or at least there will be the ability to more directly assign blame.
It should be remembered that by the time you begin back tracking something to its farm of origin a problem has already cropped up. It is not preventing the incident that sparked the investigation, although it could prevent future issues from arising from a given grain bin if that was the initial source.
While certainly there is a health safety element to trace back systems, a greater motivator, even if those in the system don’t want to admit it, is who will be liable if the courts become involved.
I recently read about a mock scenario where a ship filled with Canadian grain hits a foreign harbour where the grain is tested and the shipment rejected because the samples exceed the maximum residue limit for a particular pesticide.
There is a huge cost to such a scenario, and questions are going to fly regarding who is responsible.
Now some will suggest that is where tracing samples back to the farm comes into play. It might be argued if a company is loading a ship headed to a country with very specific tolerances for a particular pesticide they should have done sufficient sample testing when buying not to have to worry. Of course they might well argue the farmers selling them grain are supposed to have met label requirements on any crop protection product so they need not have worried.
Who should have carried out the due diligence to ensure the shipment was not rejected can quickly become a legal matter, and then it will be up to lawyers and judges. And that has to make farmers shudder just a little.
The grain handling system is a diverse one from the elevator to the rail lines to the ports, shipping companies, grain inspectors, and of course the company who made the pesticide. All are going to have deeper pockets in terms of any litigation than the farmer.
Certainly one can’t argue against anything that stands to make the food supply safer, but there is more at play here.
The tolerances from herbicide and pesticide residues can vary country to country and are often imposed more as a trade boundary than a food safety measure, but they still matter in terms of trade. If that trade is impacted by samples missing the targets the system will look to protect itself from similar incidences as a minimum, and may eventually look to recoup costs if the system can find the smoking gun, even if that is at the farm level.
Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This  Week.