Sarah Bridgewood/Smithers Interior News
Recently, the CFIA, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, changed the definition of ‘local food.’
The rationale, behind the move, according to the CFIA, is to bring the definition of local food up to date with Canada’s current farming practices.
Previously, local food was defined as food sold within a 50-kilometre radius of where it was produced, or food produced and sold in the same or adjacent municipality.
The revised definition of local food, established by the CFIA, includes food sold in the same province as it was grown or food sold across a provincial border within 50 kilometres of its origin.
The new definition, the CFIA said, is in keeping with its current review of labeling systems for food which includes input from consumers, industry and stakeholders.
The new definition of local food remains in effect until the labeling review is complete.
Lyn Nugent, a local farmer and farmers’ market board member, said the new definition of local food will have little if any impact on the Smithers’ farmer’s market as all producers are from the municipality.
The new rules, Nugent explained, merely control how food can be labeled whereas the Smithers farmers’ market has full control of which vendors take part in the market, so very little will change as the directors realize residents of Smithers shop at the farmers’ market to purchase foods grown around Smithers.
“We can still call everything that we sell local,” Nugent said.
“It [new definition] doesn’t change who we allow to come to the farmers market because we set our own rules.
“The board have established boundaries from within which food and other goods must be produced.
“If they aren’t produced within those boundaries they can’t sell at the farmers’ market.”
However, Nugent did say the new labelling regulations may leave some consumers in other regions with the impression they are buying local food, as defined by the old definition, when in fact they are not.
“People outside of the farmers’ market may be thinking they’re getting something they’re not,” Nugent said.
The new definition, Nugent added, will not serve to provide accurate information to consumers.
“Most people I know want to know what they’re eating and they want information about it,” she said.
Eating locally is important to many people for a host of reasons, one of which is to support local farmers who then put money back into the community.
People also sometimes lean toward more local products because of the environmental factor, their produce didn’t have to travel across oceans and mountains to get there, it was picked that morning and travelled a few kilometres in someone’s vehicle, Nugent said.
“Sometimes the information is about life-saving issues such as allergies, sometimes it’s about lifestyle choices such as wanting to eat local food.”
By changing the definition of local and expanding what is meant by local, Nugent said, the CFIA has made it more difficult for people to make those decisions and takes away from the true meaning of local, Nugent said.
As an example, the new definition of local puts a beef farmer from the Okanagan on the same footing as a beef farmer from Smithers or Telkwa.
“I think that’s unfortunate for the consumer and it’s unfortunate for the farmer,” Nugent said.
In the end the changes imposed by the CFIA really weren’t necessary, Nugent said.
The CIFA reminds people that describing your food as local is completely optional and that qualifiers like the city of origin may be added to the label to offer some context to the product in question to aid consumers in choosing their purchases.