A local loophole? Looking at the new definition of local

The broadening of the term local is helping large retailers, but are the customers winning as well?

Canadians are proud of their country and its products and strive to support “local” when they can.

In fact, it’s one of the biggest growing trends in the food industry and one that most retailers are trying to maximize.

But how do you define “local” and how does a consumer know that what is claimed as local really is?

In the last few weeks, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency implemented a change to their labelling laws for the term “local.”

It used to mean food produced within 50 km of where it is sold or within the same or an adjacent municipality.

The new interim policy has expanded these boundaries exponentially. The term “local” can now be applied to anything produced within the province it is sold or within 50 km of its borders.

Does this allow for the benefits that local food advocates tout, like fresher, more nutritious foods, a stronger economy and community and less of an environmental impact?

For a huge province like Ontario, local food can now be produced more than 1,700 km from where it’s sold—that’s about the same distance as Vancouver is from California!

This new interim policy certainly allows retailers to advertise more to their local food driven consumers and many of them have already jumped on the opportunity.

Previously, large retailers were not able to claim support of many local producers because those within the 50 km boundary were often too small to provide for large chains.

Now retailers can look for any producer, cooperative or distributor with an address within their province or an adjacent province and feel they are now supporting local.

Although this may be of benefit for securing the “local foods” consumer, is it truly benefitting our local food system?

Is this advertised support for local foods really having the effect consumers hope it will on the economy and the quality of their food?

The CFIA is requesting feedback until the end of August before the official policy is developed.

But no matter the outcome, it is key for retailers to truly value supporting small, local producers. Despite the challenges, the benefits are bountiful!