If you're looking to buy local produce from you grocery store, it's important to know that it is, in fact, from this country.

However, CBC News has uncovered several instances of mislabelled fruits and vegetables in Vancouver-area supermarkets.

Tomatoes, apples, peppers and cilantro were all marked as "B.C. Grown" despite the fact they were from the U.S., Mexico and Israel. A spokesperson for the chain, Save-on-Foods, said the mislabelling was unintentional.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has specific guidelines  pertaining to what is and is not a local product. Here is a quick look at those regulations and how they apply to different produce items.

What is considered a Product of Canada?

A food product may use the label Product of Canada if "all or virtually all" of the major ingredients, processing and labour used to make the product are Canadian, according to the Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising from the CFIA.

Non-Canadian material must be negligible and usually involves spices, additives, vitamins or minerals. The CFIA's website says these ingredients must account for less than two per cent of the product.

According to the regulations, including a Product of Canada designation is voluntary, so some products which are wholly Canadian are not declared as such.  The same applies to the other product labels, including the Made in Canada designation.

Why is such a label desirable?

Ron Bennett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, says many consumers look for the Product of Canada designation because they have more confidence in locally grown produce, particularly with respect to quality control and safety.

It is also about promoting local industry, he says.

"There is fairly strong support across the country for supporting Canadian producers and Canadian production," he says.

What does Made in Canada mean?

For a product to be labeled Made in Canada, the last substantial transformation must occur in Canada, meaning food must undergo some form of processing which changes it into a new product. For instance, a Canadian factory could combine lettuce and vegetables, either locally grown or imported, to create a salad with the designation Made in Canada.

However, the label requires a qualifier which lets consumers know if it was manufactured in Canada with imported ingredients or a combination of imported and domestic ingredients. So, if the salad contained vegetables and lettuce from the U.S., the label would have to say Made in Canada with imported ingredients.

Are there any other labels?

The lowest threshold in terms of product labeling applies to claims that include Packaged in Canada, Roasted in Canada or Prepared in Canada, which can apply to a number of products including jams or coffee. The actual wording can change but it must be truthful and not misleading, according to CFIA guidelines.

Agricultural imports, exports a big business

According to a 2011 report from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the country exported $35.2 billion worth of agricultural and agri-food products in 2009. It also imported $27.9 billion worth of these products during the same time period.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. is Canada's number one trading partner for agricultural products.

In 2009, the U.S. purchased half of these products exported from Canada and nearly two-thirds of Canadian imports originated in the U.S.

 

For instance, a label on a jam product could be Packaged in Canada if the jam was made in the U.S. but simply canned in Canada. There is no requirement, however, to include information about the origin of the products.

When did these guidelines come into force?

In May 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled the Canadian Food Labelling Initiative designed to improve the definition of labels that claimed to be Canadian products.

"If something in the grocery store is marked Product of Canada it must mean all or virtually all of the contents are Canadian," Harper said at the time. "So that all apples, all the apples in the juice will come from farmers [in Canada], the cod in the fishsticks will come from Canadian waters and all the milk in the ice cream will come from Canadian dairy cows."

The regulations came into effect on Jan. 1, 2009.

Previously, processors only had to show that 51 per cent of costs were incurred in Canada and the last substantial transformation of the product occurred in Canada to use the 'Made in' and 'Product of' labels. Ingredients could come from anywhere.

What about imported fruits and vegetables?

According to the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Regulations  of the Department of Justice, every container of imported produce must show the country of origin on its principal display panel. This must include the words Product of, Produce of, Grown in, or Country or Origin followed by the name of the country.

If whole fresh fruit and vegetables are packaged together, the label must declare all countries of origin, according to the CFIA. So a fruit salad made of both domestic and imported products would require a label that names all of the countries of origin.

How much do we import in terms of produce?

According to the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, an Ottawa-based not-for-profit organization that represents produce companies, the entire country eats around 52 billion servings of fruits and vegetables every year.

Largely as a result of Canada's limited growing season, approximately 80 percent of that produce is imported, its website says. A further 80 per cent of those fruits and vegetables come from the U.S.

Bennett says all figures relating to imports can be misinterpreted because products are often shipped across the border (either direction), processed and then shipped again as a new product.

And there are some products — tropical plants like bananas, for instance — cannot be grown outdoors in Canada and must be imported.