The primary objective of this briefing note is to inform the Canadian parliament and the public about the current situation of the 1989 Chilean grape scare. Furthermore, the post will offer specific recommendations concerning actions that should be made to avoid damaging consequences of similar incidents and ensure public health security.
On March 2nd, 1989, the United States Embassy in Chile was warned that Chilean fruit shipped to the United States, was contaminated with a highly poisoning substance, cyanide. Consequently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) intensified the inspection of Chilean fruit and, on March 12th, 1989, discovered grapes with cyanide, which belonged to a batch selected in the Port of Philadelphia (Engel, 1999). The USA has also reported one death from cyanide poisoning and two hospitalizations with symptoms indicating cyanide poisoning.
Presently, Canada imports Chilean fruits, including apples, pears, grapes, tomatoes, and melons, which come through the United States. In particular, Canada’s import of Chilean produce comprises over $84 million, most of which is table grapes ($60 million) (“Canada imports,” 2021).
Cyanide is a fast-acting toxic that can exist in different forms and result in coma and death. Its symptoms usually include weakness, headache, nausea, seizures, rapid heartbeat, and even cardiac arrest (“The facts,” 2006). It can be consumed from foods, water, smoking, and other sources. In this regard, Health Products and Food Branch Inspectorate (HPFBI), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are the primary federal bodies responsible for food safety and their appropriate quality.
Since cyanide is a fast-acting poisoning chemical, the relevant actions should be directed at amplifying the testing of Chilean fruits and posing a temporary embargo on all fruit from Chile. Specifically, HPFBI and CFIA, which are accountable for compliance and inspection activities associated with food products, should conduct a thorough investigation of fruits, especially grapes (“Health Products,” 2004). In addition, CBSA ensuring legitimate trade and border security should intensify the import inspection at ports of entry, especially those that receive produce from the US (“Food, plant and animal inspections,” 2020). The actions indicated above should be implemented without delay and reinforced by appropriate laws.
Canada imports from Chile. (2021). Trading Economics. Web.
Engel, E. (1999). Grapes, mad cows, and protectionism. Cambridge: The National Bureau of Economic Research.
Food, plant and animal inspections (2020). Canada.ca. Web.
Health Products and Food Branch Inspectorate (HPFBI) (2004). Canada.ca. Web.
The facts about cyanides. (2006). Department of Health. Web.