A Manitoba farmers' co-operative says the provincial government needs to get with the times and allow producers like them to sell local eggs, poultry, jams and other products online.
Provincial inspectors have partially shut down the Harvest Moon co-operative's internet sales, claiming the group has been violating regulations by not getting their eggs and poultry inspected and not putting nutritional labels on their jams.
But Harvest Moon's farmers say the regulations, which allow farmers to sell their products directly to customers at markets and farm gates, were drafted before the internet even existed.
"They just seem a little bit out of date. I mean, the farm gate now, in the 21st century … I think extends to the internet," Ian Barnett, a honey producer who is one of the Harvest Moon co-op's 13 farmers, told CBC News on Monday.
For the past 2½ years, Harvest Moon has been taking orders on the collective's website for farm-fresh produce, meat, eggs and other products, which were delivered to customers in a communal van once a month.
But while the farmers can legally sell their eggs, poultry and jams directly to consumers from their front door, inspectors have said they cannot sell them through the website or deliver them in the van.
Ron Kostyshyn, Manitoba's minister of agriculture, food and rural development, says the government is open to updating its legislation.
'Lack of human intervention'
But internet sales still need to be treated differently, said Kostyshyn, adding that the province has to ensure the food that is sold is safe.
"We're assuming that the food is the same through internet sales. There is a lack of human intervention at that point in time," he said.
Barnett argued that the Harvest Moon website is personal enough, as it has information about where its products come from.
"I think consumers deserve a choice, to choose the food they want," he said. "I think our website makes it pretty clear which farmer they're purchasing it from."
Commercial egg operations are required to have their eggs graded at one of 18 regulated grading stations across the province.
Manitoba Egg Farmers, which represents 165 regulated producers, argues that the internet is not the farm gate and Harvest Moon's eggs should be graded.
"Whether it's fair or not fair, I think it's a reality that by going through that step, it just ensures that Manitobans have access to that high-quality product," said Cory Rybuck, Manitoba Egg Farmers' general manager.
The Harvest Moon website brought in $120,000 last year, and Barnett said the partial shutdown will impact the co-operative.
"We're still going to make a go of it, and we're still going to be working to get those eggs back on the website," said Barnett, adding that the farmers will focus on products they can still sell online.