John Gilchrist: Canadian farmers, processors will benefit from new food label rules
- March 2, 2009 10:07 AM |
- By Michael Hlinka
Money Talks is a daily business column from CBC radio.
John Gilchrist is a Calgary-based food writer and restaurant critic.
(Listen to the original audio.)
Have you read any good food labels lately?
A trip to the grocery store is getting to be more like a visit to the library thanks to the new food labeling guidelines that came into effect on January 1. We now have clear definitions of what Product of Canada and Made in Canada mean. And it should be a good move for Canadian farmers and food processors.
The new guidelines - and they are guidelines since they are voluntary - state that Product of Canada labeling can only be used if at least 98 per cent of the ingredients used in a food product come from Canada. It also states that the labour and processing must happen in Canada. So only 2 per cent of the ingredients can come from outside our borders if the food is labeled Product of Canada. That limits it to small amounts of things like vanilla or coffee flavouring or such.
For those foods with larger out-of-country portions, there's the Made in Canada designation. In this case if what's known as the "last substantial transformation" of a product happens in Canada, even if the ingredients are foreign, it can be labeled Made in Canada. For example, if I want to make a pineapple sauce using fresh pineapple, cane sugar, and tropical seasonings - all imported - I can say it was Made in Canada as long as I cook it somewhere in Canada.
I could also say that it's "Made in Canada with imported ingredients," and if I throw in some saskatoon berries I can say it's "Made in Canada with domestic and imported ingredients." And I don't have to indicate exactly where I imported the ingredients from.
If I'm bringing in meat such as lamb from New Zealand, I do have to say it's from New Zealand. However if I'm grinding it into sausages, I don't have to tell anyone where it's from. But I can't say it' s from Canada.
Other terms can be used too: "Roasted and blended in Canada" can be used for coffee, and "Canned" or "Packaged in Canada" can be used for products that come across the border in bulk and are then re-packaged here.
But if, say, someone in France imports a boatload of Canadian mustard seed and makes prepared mustard from it and ships it back to us in fancy jars, it's no longer Canadian. It's a product of France.
This may sound a touch confusing, but it's actually simpler and clearer than the previous guidelines. And ultimately, as we become more interested in where our food comes from and our support for home-grown products increases, the consumer will search out these new designations. So it's in the best interest of Canada's food processors to adopt them.
And while adoption of the labels is voluntary, adherence to them is not. If a label says Made in Canada it has to be able to back up its claim to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or heavy fines can be levied.
It will take a few months for the old labels to be replaced by the new ones so look for changes soon. And have a good read at the grocery store.
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