“Local” is being redefined by Canadian officials, but in the meantime, they’ve approved a definition that gives produce marketers more flexibility in defining what local is.
A notice from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it is beginning a process of modernizing food label regulations.
As that process continues, Canadian officials have said they have adopted a new interim policy which recognizes “local” as:
- food produced in the province or territory in which it is sold, or
- food sold across provincial (domestic only) boundaries within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of the originating province or territory.
“From a national perspective, we are comfortable with the definition as it has been presented,” said Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Ottawa. “It does give the produce industry much more flexibility relative to defining local.”
The notice said the new definition is immediately effective and will remain in place until the CFIA’s review of labeling regulations is complete, according to the notice.
“The use of the claim “local” is still subject to prohibitions relating to false and misleading claims of the Food and Drugs Act as well as the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act,” accoriding the notice said.
Under the previous policy, which the CFIA called “outdated,” the agency interpreted the terms “local”, “locally grown”, or any similar term to mean that:
- the food originated within 50 kilometers (31 miles) radius of the place where it was sold, or
- the food sold originated within the same local government unit (e.g. city, municipality) or adjacent government unit.
The CFIA notice said claims such as “local” are voluntary, and said marketers can add qualifiers such as the name of a city to provide consumers with additional information.
Lemaire said the interim definition allows flexibility to the consumer.
“The consumer has very much associated their own province as local,” Lemaire said.
Those concerned about consumer confusion and the “micro local” message found at farmers’ markets, he said, can add more specific designations of what town or region the product was grown in, he said.
Lemaire said refashioning food labeling regulations in Canada may take a year or more. He said the U.S. — which currently does not define “local” under marketing regulations — could follow Canada’s lead in time.
Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C.-based representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said there is no general U.S. Department of Agriculture definition for “local” for marketing claim purposes. O’Brien said it seems unlikely that the USDA would create a rigid definition for “local” unless ordered to do so by lawmakers.
“They did define organic because Congress told them to do it.”
The Tester amendment in the Food Safety Modernization Act is sort of a stand-in definition of local, O’Brien said. That provision exempts smaller food shippers from some FDA food safety regulations if the majority of food marketed by the facility is sold direct to consumers, restaurants or grocery stores in the same state or within 275 miles of the facility.