“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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