Half-step for Product of Canada labels

Agriculture Canada is stepping up its promotion of a Canada Brand program to help identify Canadian food products for consumers at home and abroad.

The government is supporting pilot projects in a select group of stores across the country with Canadian products marked with a special red maple leaf label. But the program only works for obvious products like meat, fish, cheese and maple syrup and offers little benefit for prepared or multi-ingredient products.

The government says the experience so far suggests consumers “prefer to buy Canadian products if they can easily identify them” — but slapping a maple leaf logo on multi-ingredient products has proven to be challenging.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture launched an initiative several years ago to reform Product of Canada labels so consumers would know the food in the tin or package was grown in Canada, not just packaged here. However, the initiative foundered when the federal government insisted food products would have to have 98 per cent Canadian content — instead of the 85 per cent proposed by the CFA. Since few products can consistently achieve that limit because of the seasonal nature of food production in Canada, the proposal came to naught.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn, then minister of state for agriculture, tried to negotiate a compromise with the food industry centred around exempting some ingredients from the 98 per cent calculation. That idea gained a lot of support but ultimately fizzled out after Blackburn lost his seat.

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