The new name for local is ‘provincial.’
Until recently, only food grown within 50 kilometres of where it was sold qualified as local, but under a new interim ruling issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, any food grown in a province can legally be called ‘local food.’ (Food sold across a provincial border must have been grown no more than 50 kilometres away in order to qualify as local.)
That’s upset some food advocates in other provinces, but not here.
“It reflects the reality of agriculture, particularly on the Prairies,” said Stefan Epp-Koop, acting executive director of Food Matters Manitoba.
“In a province like Manitoba, we have lots of farmers farther outside the 50-kilometre radius from major markets like Winnipeg or Brandon.”
His group surveyed farmers selling in those markets and found most were nearly 200 kilometres away.
“Provincial boundaries, while they may be imperfect, (are) one of the best guides that we have,” he said. “I think it makes a lot of sense.”
The change was also welcomed by the Manitoba Food Processors Association, which launched a Buy Manitoba food product identifier and marketing program last spring.
“Many will absolutely accept that it is the province or a territory — some say it’s Manitoba first, then Western Canada then Canada,” said Dave Shambrock, the association’s executive director. “Others say local only means food grown within 20 miles. And all of those people are right.”
Colin Anderson of the Harvest Moon Society also likes the change, but questions whether there needs to be a regulation defining what’s local.
“For me, local is about being able to connect and reconnect with farmers and understand where food is coming from,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s 50 kilometres or 250 kilometres.”
However, the change has attracted some criticism. The Kootenay Co-operative in Nelson, B.C. argues the change will undermine farmers in its area because grocery chains will be able to market food grown hundreds, or even thousands, of kilometres away as local.
While food marketers’ use of the claim ‘local’ remains subject to rules on false and misleading claims, the rule governing local is voluntary. The CFIA recommends putting additional information, such as where exactly the food was grown, on product labels.