Editorial: True Local

Meet the new local. Not the new neighbour who just moved to town. This "local" applies to food and the definition has recently changed.

Meet the new local. Not the new neighbour who just moved to town. This “local” applies to food and the definition has recently changed.

Whereas the label “local food” once applied to food items grown in and around the geographical boundaries of a community — within 50 kilometres, to be exact — the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has recently expanded the definition so that it now applies to any food produced in the province or territory in which it is sold, or within 50 kilometres of provincial borders. This means that an Albertan potato can now be considered local food in Kitimat.

The CFIA, the federal agency reponsible for food labelling, is calling the new policy (which came into effect May 10th) an interim measure, one that is part of an overall review (officially announced June 13th) of Canada’s existing food labelling requirements. Through consulations with consumers, industry and other stakeholders, the CFIA aims to modernize its approach to better meet  “changing expections and industry needs related to food labelling,” according to the CFIA webpage. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that the soaring popularity of the “local food” market has obviously piqued the attention of large-scale food producers and retailers who want to cash in on a new trend, and the new definition is the government’s way of catering to big business.

While the definition change may make sense for more remote areas of the country where there is no nearby farm for 50 km, small farmers who work hard to supply their products to their communities and have been able to capitalize on the local organic foods market will now have to face fiercer province-wide competition.

In response to the definition change, the Kootenay Co-op store in Nelson, the largest independent natural foods retail co-operative in Canada with 11,000 members (thetyee.ca), has initiated its own marketing strategy, which it’s calling ‘True Local’ based on the boundaries they’ve drawn on a map, and kicked off  the campaign with a protest rally at the store on June 1st.  The CFIA is looking for feedback. One simple solution is to require that any label list where the item was grown, and leave it up to the consumer to choose how “local” they want to be.