Health Canada rushes to correct lack of pesticide testing for cannabis

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Courtesy of Lift Magazine

New testing limits for pesticides are causing some frustration for producers and labs who say these limits are being set retroactively, reflecting poorly on an industry with a reputation for otherwise robust regulations.

In the wake of pesticide-related recalls from OrganiGram and Mettrum late last year and early this year, Health Canada recently announced new surprise testing for all licensed producers, as well as required testing for organigram and mettrum. Then, after Health Canada released the results of their spot-testing, showing trace amounts of pesticides on leaf samples from one producer, the regulator announced new required testing for all licensed producers.

As of May 17, there are currently only 17 approved pest control products for cannabis allowed by Health Canada, and all other products are entirely disallowed. The testing limits for all unauthorized products are being set at the lowest possible detectable levels based on currently available technology. Reportedly, Health Canada has now informed some licensed producers that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency Laboratory (PMRA) is using a reporting limit of 0.01 parts per million (ppm) for reporting pesticide residues found in fresh marihuana leaves, dried cannabis and cannabis oil.

However, the agency says in some instances, the reporting limits could be higher due to a number of factors such as: the characteristics of the active ingredient, the nature and complexity of the sample matrix, instrument sensitivity and analytical methodology. The PMRA is who Health Canada will use to verify the samples the regulator takes from various facilities to ensure compliance.

For reference, one ppm is one part in one million. 0.01 ppm is ten parts per billion (ppb). One ppm is comparable to one second in 11.5 days or four drops of ink in one 55-gallon barrel of water. Not all laboratories currently approved to test cannabis in Canada are able to provide a full pesticide array down to this level. 

Related: Health Canada updates pesticide testing requirements in wake of new results

What these new testing standards entail still remains unclear, and this uncertainty is causing confusion and frustration among those producing cannabis, as well as the labs who can provide these kinds of tests, says Hubert Marceau, the Director of Development at Laboratoire PhytoChemia Inc. Based in Quebec, PhytoChemia is one of a handful of labs in Canada that are licensed to provide analytical testing for cannabis for licensed producers.

In the past, explains Marceau, licensed producers were essentially told to use the testing standards in the chosen pharmacopoeia, usually the European or US Pharmacopoeia, which have their own specific quality assurance standards, including testing limits for things like heavy metals, microbial impurities, moulds, some specific pesticides, etc. Now they are being held—retroactively in some cases—to new higher standards, which creates a lot of confusion and uncertainty, he says. 

“I think we need to protect our patients in many different ways and our company is investing to make sure that we are able to support and help the LPs to make that mission real. I think it’s healthy

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