“Local” Food Controversy Consumes Vancouver

Photo credit: PilotGirl | Flickr

Photo credit: PilotGirl | Flickr

Would you consider blueberries from Bellingham to be local? How about tomatoes from Jasper?

New definitions from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have dramatically stretched what it means to eat local, according to an article in the Vancouver Sun.   The updated guidelines says that any food produced in B.C. or within 50 kilometres of its borders is considered local.

In a province as large as B.C., this means that “local” produce and meat could be coming from thousands of kilometres away or even from other countries.

Vancouver eaters are already taking issue with the confusing change in terminology, which may alter the way products are labeled in grocery stores and on restaurant menus.

In the past, local food was defined by CFIA simply as anything produced within a 50-kilometre radius of where it was sold.  This offered buyers assurances that their fruits, veggies, meats and cheeses were all grown or made in their own backyard and not shipped long distances.

But that restrictive definition also created problems of its own.Under the old regime, neither Chilliwack corn nor Okanagan peaches qualified as local.  As Randy Shore notes in the Vancouver Sun, “Beets from Burnaby qualified, but not raspberries from Abbotsford.” Even the well known 100-Mile Diet wasn’t, strictly speaking, local (100 miles equals 161 kilometres).

CFIA finally decided to modernize the old definition this month after a high-profile controversy in Ontario.  Premium burger joint Bistro Burger was reprimanded for saying it used “local meat,” which came from an organic farm some 200 kilometres away.  The owner was even threatened with a $50,000 fine for refusing to change the labeling on his burgers.  Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne intervened and a new concept of “local” was born.

But to many local food activists, CFIA’s expanded new definition of local is even more worrisome.  Most people associate the idea of local foods with products grown in neighbouring communities, not in other provinces or countries.

Eat-local advocates argue that a better definition would take into account the idea of a local foodshed, the nearest agricultural regions where an urban centre sources its food.  For Vancouver, for example, that would include the Fraser Valley, Sea to Sky Corridor and even the Okanagan, but not Washington state or Alberta.

What does local food mean to you?  Share your thoughts below. 

For more updates on Vancouver and beyond, follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.

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8 Responses to “Local” Food Controversy Consumes Vancouver

  1. Paul D

    Never let a regulator intervene where common sense is needed.

    How about asking retailers to tell us more precisely where the products are from so that we can decide if they’re “local” enough us?

    • I agree! I want to know where my food comes from so I can choose for myself.

      I think menus that claim to be local should say “Pemberton Potatoes” and “Chilliwack Sloping Hills Meat” and that grocers should state the location as best as possible i.e Corn – California, Blueberries – Abbotsford, Potatoes – Washington. I may still choose to buy but I make an informed decision.

  2. Ron

    Next thing only land borders will count.. making food from China ‘local’.

  3. Lisa

    I agree with Paul…I’d rather just be clearly told where the products are grown, so I can decide for myself if it’s “local”.

    I have a bigger issue with the term “local” being used for products that are processed here, but with obviously non-local & imported ingredients. ie Importing all the ingredients to make a “local” product. Grocery stores sell “local” olive oil…really?

  4. Kevin

    Yes I agree: For Vancouver, for example, that would include the Fraser Valley, Sea to Sky Corridor and even the Okanagan, but not Washington state or Alberta.

    Label everything and let the consumers decide.

    • Why not Washington? Since the apple orchards in the Okanagan have been converted into grapes for wineries, we will have little choice but to buy WA apples this year.

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  6. Sarah

    Well then people should stop developing because the more you build on and breach into farm lands, the less area you have to grow. On a related note, farmers should be required to rotate their crops instead of only growing blueberries, cranberries, corn and canola. Beside the unnecessary development of land, huge amounts of usable, local farm lands are wasted on single crops which offer no variety. I would buy everything local if it were made available… (wo)man cannot live on blueberries alone. Just to be clear, however, I do agree that the term local, just like the term organic, should be used properly.