Conservative MP Larry Miller is offering a simple fix for the debate over how much domestic content there should be in food labelled Product of Canada.
To be eligible to use the label, food products should be 100 per cent Canadian with exemptions allowed for processed or packaged foods that include sugar, spices and other minor ingredients that aren’t readily available in Canada, says the chairman of the Commons agriculture committee.
“I’m totally opposed to anything less than that because processors will try to take advantage of it to use cheap imported ingredients when the same product is available in Canada,” he said.
The debate over domestic content has centred on two numbers – 85 per cent Canadian content as originally proposed by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and backed by other groups, the food industry and the opposition parties in Parliament.
The other is the 98 per cent announced by Prime Minister Harper in 2009. The remaining two per cent was supposed to accommodate the need to use ingredients not grown in Canada. Products that are mostly domestic content could be labelled Made in Canada.
Most processors say they can’t consistently attain the 98 per cent level and have shelved plans for using Product of Canada labels, which are virtually nonexistent in grocery stores.
Jean-Pierre Blackburn, minister of state for agriculture, has been trying for almost a year to find a way out of the impasse. Blackburn held several meetings with food industry officials on the labelling issue. He told reporters last June he hoped to have a solution by the end of 2010 that would exempt imported minor ingredients from the 98 per cent calculation.
His officials admit the minister is still working on the issue.
Meanwhile, he has launched a small-scale grocery store campaign to promote Canadian foods.
CFA pushed for the Product of Canada labels so consumers would know the food in the tin or package was grown in Canada, not just packaged here.
The CFA said polling proved consumers trusted foods from Canadian farmers were safe but didn’t have a reliable way of buying foods containing domestic content because the existing labelling system doesn’t provide accurate label information.
Miller says he helped convince Harper to change the policy and admits he’s disappointed at how long it’s taken to fix the Product of Canada labels.