A beef over a sign at an Ontario burger joint has Premier Kathleen Wynne calling on the federal government to change its definition of local food, saying the current rules are "too narrow" and work "contrary to interests of farmers."
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says "local," "locally grown," and any similar term "shall mean that the domestic goods being advertised originated within 50 km of the place where they are sold, measured directly, point to point."
A month ago, the Ontario Liberal government tabled the Local Food Act, which seems to contradict the CFIA’s definition. According to that proposed piece of legislation "local food" means, "any food produced or harvested in Ontario."
"The CFIA’s legislation is designed to regulate the labelling and advertising of food products. However, the scope of their definition may be too narrow and could work contrary to the interests of supporting local food and Ontario farmers," wrote Gabrielle Gallant, a spokesperson for Wynne, who is also Ontario's minister of agriculture.
Gallant said the definition is something Wynne has raised with federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz
"Premier Wynne is looking forward to working with her federal counterpart to encourage smart, streamlined regulation that makes sense and supports greater access to local Ontario food," Gallant wrote to CBC News.
The federal definition of "local" came into effect in 1974.
Ritz’s director of communications, Joel Taguchi, confirmed "our offices have been in touch."
Definition 'up for discussion'
The CFIA is currently undertaking what Taguchi called "a broad consultation" on labelling issues as part of the federal Safe Food for Canadians Act.
"One of the matters and topics that is up for discussion is labelling regulations, including local foods," Taguchi said.
Today, an Ontario burger joint could be fined up to $50,000 for labelling its beef as "local," even though it is raised and processed approximately 200 kilometres away from the restaurant.
Bistro Burger Joint owner Jay Klausen of Alliston, Ont., is scheduled to meet with the CFIA today, and quite possibly learn his fate.
Klausen has been labelling his beef "local" for months. He buys his beef from Field Gate Organics, a federally inspected organic farm in Zurich, Ont.
However, the CFIA’s prohibits him from calling the beef "local."
There is an alternative to the 50-kilometre radius when it comes to labelling local food.
According to the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations, which is also enforced by the CFIA, "local food" means a food that is manufactured, processed, produced or packaged in a local government unit and sold only in:
- the local government unit in which it is manufactured, processed or packaged.
- one or more local government units that are immediately adjacent to the one in which it is manufactured, processed, produced or packaged.
- the local government unit in which it is manufactured, processed, produced or packaged and in one or more local government units that are immediately adjacent to the one in which it is manufactured, processed, produced or packaged.
Klausen doesn’t agree with either of the government’s definitions of "local."
"I would say Ontario is local to us here. At least we’re supporting our province. It’s a fine line. It’s a really good debate," Klausen said.
Klausen said municipalities across the country differ in size, so in some cases, it could be impossible to buy "local" food from 50 kilometres away, even if the buyer and supplier are in the same municipality.
"In Saskatchewan, you could drive for hundreds of miles and not hit anything. It should be provincial, I believe," Klausen said.
Klausen said the investigation into his restaurant stems from a complaint about the labelling.
'It's definitely opened up a lot of eyes and debate.' — Jay Klausen, Bistro Burger
"We wanted to create a burger joint where we were sourcing out as many local products as we can," Klausen said. "We could buy frozen beef patties from any place, big factory farms and pay peanuts for them, but that’s not what we believe in.
"It’s really opened a big can of worms in the area; that someone would complain about a small business. It’s definitely opened up a lot of eyes and debate at the same time."
Patricia Julian owns the Sunflower Cafe on Drouillard Road in Windsor. She sells organic produce grown in Tilbury and Cottam. By current law, Julian couldn't label products from Tilbury as "local." Tilbury is slightly more than 40 kms away.
"I think that's unrealistic unless you live in the Okanagan Valley. I think a lot of us try to use as much local produce and things as we can," she said.
According to the province, food production, manufacturing and distribution contribute $34 billion to the economy on an annual basis and support 700,000 Ontario jobs.
"That’s why we introduced a Local Food Act which supports the agri-food sector by encouraging more people and institutions to buy food grown or made in Ontario," Gallant wrote.