Are the “healthy” foods we eat really healthy? What are the most common pesticides used on food crops in Canada and the USA, and are they harmful to human health?

As of 2023, several pesticides and herbicides remain legal for agricultural use in the USA and Canada. These include Atrazine, Glyphosate (commonly known as Roundup), Chlorpyrifos, Metolachlor, and 2,4-D. Despite their widespread use, concerns have been raised about the potentially harmful effects these chemicals may have on human health and the environment.


Atrazine, a known endocrine disrupter, is particularly toxic to amphibians and aquatic organisms. In fact, it is one of the most commonly detected herbicides in water sources.

Exposure to Atrazine has been linked to a variety of serious health issues. Studies suggest that this pesticide can disrupt the endocrine system, leading to hormonal imbalances. Long-term exposure to Atrazine has also been associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer, including ovarian, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, hairy-cell leukemia, and thyroid cancer. Additionally, research indicates that Atrazine can potentially contribute to birth defects and developmental problems in children. It’s crucial to note that these risks are not just for those directly handling the chemical; people can be exposed to Atrazine through contaminated water or food.

The use of Atrazine has been banned in the European Union since 2004, yet it still remains legal for agricultural use in both Canada and the USA. A study published by Environmental Science & Technology found that atrazine concentrations significantly decreased in surface waters of the Midwestern United States following its ban in Europe, suggesting that external regulation of atrazine can drastically reduce its concentrations in the environment.


Chlorpyrifos, a widely used neurotoxic insecticide used on a variety of crops including apples and oranges, is facing potential bans due to concerns over developmental impacts in children. In response to mounting evidence of chlorpyrifos‘ harmful effects on human health, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempted to ban its use in 2017 but was blocked by the Trump administration. As of 2023, the EPA is still debating whether to keep chlorpyrifos on the market. In Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency has proposed to phase out chlorpyrifos products by December 2023, but it remains to be seen if this will happen.


The herbicide dicamba is another widely used pesticide that has been linked to various health risks in humans, including cancer. It’s commonly used on soybeans and cotton crops and has also been found in non-GMO foods such as grapes, peaches, and apples. Dicamba often drifts into nearby areas via wind or water, thus contaminating non-target crops and producing potentially hazardous residues.


Malathion is an insecticide used primarily on fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, apples, oranges, grapes, lettuce and strawberries. It is considered moderately toxic to humans when ingested in small quantities but can cause serious health problems if ingested in larger amounts. Malathion has been linked to skin rashes, dizziness, nausea, headaches, increased risk of cancer, and other adverse health effects.


Glyphosate, the most used pesticide worldwide, is under scrutiny for its possible carcinogenic effects and impact on biodiversity. Numerous studies and articles have highlighted the detrimental effects of glyphosate on human health. For instance, a research article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health revealed that high exposure to glyphosate could induce various health problems including, but not limited to, cancer, endocrine disruption, and developmental delays in children.

Another study featured in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health illustrates glyphosate‘s potential to disrupt the microbial community in the gut, leading to negative effects on the immune system and mental health. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015, underscoring the gravity of health risks associated with this widely used pesticide.

In Canada, glyphosate is predominantly used in the production of genetically modified (GM) crops. These crops include corn, canola, and soybeans, which are engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, allowing farmers to spray the herbicide freely without damaging the crops.

It’s also extensively applied on wheat, barley, oats, and peas as a pre-harvest desiccant, accelerating the drying process of these crops. Consequently, these food items often carry a high risk of glyphosate contamination.

A report published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in 2019 found detectable levels of glyphosate in oat milk products, and all 21 oat-based cereal and snack products sampled in the study.

While the levels found in these tests were within the legal limits set by the EPA, they exceeded the benchmarks established by the EWG for protecting children’s health. This discrepancy is a stark reminder of the need for stricter regulation and more rigorous testing of our food products, especially those widely consumed by vulnerable populations like children.


Paraquat, a highly toxic herbicide linked to Parkinson’s disease, is no longer registered for use in Canada. The only Canadian manufacturer, Syngenta, voluntarily discontinued its production. Therefore, as of 2022, no products containing Paraquat are registered for use in Canada. This milestone represents a significant stride in minimizing the exposure to this harmful herbicide, however, vigilance must be maintained as other potentially dangerous pesticides remain in use.

These persistent organic pollutants (POPS) have been linked to cancer, neurodevelopmental delays and reproductive issues. Many of the foods we eat are contaminated with a variety of pesticides that can have toxic effects on humans and the environment. These toxins can be found in both conventional (non-organic) and organic food products, however organic produce generally has fewer chemical residues than conventionally grown produce because organic farming is prohibited from using synthetic chemicals.

While the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) does conduct rigorous testing for pesticide residues, they primarily test each food individually. This approach can potentially overlook the cumulative effects of consuming multiple types of produce, all treated with different pesticides. It’s a concern that needs to be addressed, as a person’s daily diet often consists of a variety of fruits and vegetables – each carrying its own spectrum of chemical residues.

This cumulative exposure to multiple pesticides could amplify the potential harm to human health and the environment. Therefore, it is vital to expand the focus from testing individual produce to understanding the potential risks and effects of combined exposure to various pesticides.

The potential health and environmental risks associated with pesticide use necessitates a shift towards increasing organic food production. Organic farming relies on natural fertilizers and pest control methods, such as crop rotation, encouraging beneficial insects, mulching, and hand weeding – all of which are safer for human health and the environment.

Organic farming also prohibits the use of toxic herbicides and insecticides, promoting soil fertility, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable agricultural practices. Pesticides have been linked to species extinction, biodiversity loss, and water contamination – all of which can disrupt entire ecosystems.

The organic sector in Canada faces a significant threat due to new regulations that permit gene editing. Gene editing techniques, such as CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), allow scientists to alter an organism’s DNA in unprecedented ways. One of the most contentious aspects of these new regulations is that they don’t require mandatory labeling of genetically edited foods. This lack of transparency poses a significant challenge for the organic sector.

Organic standards in Canada prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and gene-edited crops fall into this category. Therefore, the introduction of unlabeled gene-edited foods on the market creates a risk of unintentional contamination.

The lack of mandatory labeling means consumers cannot make informed choices about the food they eat. To protect the organic sector and its consumers, stakeholders are advocating for clear labeling regulations for gene-edited products. By doing so, consumers can continue to make informed choices, and the integrity of the organic label can be preserved.

By choosing organic foods, you can take action to protect your health and the environment from these toxic chemicals. You also get the added bonus of supporting local farmers who practice sustainable agriculture. This helps to reduce environmental degradation associated with large-scale chemical farming practices and promotes biodiversity in our food supply.

In addition to choosing organic foods, you can support the organic sector in Canada in various other ways. By reaching out to local and national representatives and urging them to implement stricter regulations on pesticide use, and to enforce clear labeling of genetically modified and gene-edited products, you can play a role in shaping food policies.

You can also support organic farming research. Several Canadian universities and agricultural institutes conduct research on organic farming methods, and donations to these entities can help advance the science of organic agriculture. Participating in public consultations on food safety and labeling regulations is another way you can voice your support for the organic sector.

The best way to reduce your exposure to toxic food pesticides is by choosing organic produce and foods whenever possible. Organic farming practices are more sustainable, healthier for the environment, and help protect us from potentially harmful chemical residues. GMO and gene-edited foods which are created primarily for increased yields and tolerance to herbicides should also be avoided, as these products have not been proven safe for human consumption.

McLean Meats is proud to offer a wide variety of organic deli meats that are also preservative free; free of nitrites and celery extracts.

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