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Is ‘Local’ Really Hitting Home?


August 7, 2009
By Kristy Nudds


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 BLOG

Is 'Local' Really Hitting Home?
Although the local food movement has gained considerable momentum in the past year or so, much is getting lost in the debate.

Although the local food movement has gained considerable momentum in the past year or so, much is getting lost in the debate.

Farm fresh produce and market stands aside, consumers shopping in big retail outlets are often misled, believing that many of the products they buy are Canadian-grown.

A very moving letter from Southwestern Ontario pork producer Teresa Van Raay urging all Canadian consumers to understand what’s at stake if the pork industry is decimated brings to light some very important issues that the average Canadian consumer, as well as all levels of government, needs to understand. 

In her letter she writes that just as things were starting to look brighter for pork producers – after three years of losses and re-mortgaging of assets just to survive – the fact that U.S. pork can be imported into Canadian grocery stores because they can supply it at a discounted rate is adding fuel to the fire.  The irony is, Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) set out by the U.S. hampers the ability of Canadian producers to export live animals to the U.S., yet our grocery stores readily accept U.S. product.

Although the pork industry became too reliant on export markets, she is right in trying to inform consumers that they are wrong to assume that pork they buy at the store is Canadian and in calling for the government to educate Canadians on what agriculture means to the country’s economy and well-being, and have truthful labeling on food products.

However, savvy marketing has led consumers to believe that some grocery store chains promote Canadian product.  Case in point:  In late June, the CFIA announced the recall of beef products sold under the President’s Choice (PC) label sold at Loblaws affiliates.  The reason?  Possible E. coli contamination at the source – a processing plant in Colorado!

I’m confident that PC brand shoppers assumed that “PC” meant Canadian. In the last year, Loblaws head Galen Weston Jr. has been touting “local” products at his stores.   I guess Mr. Weston doesn’t think Canada has a beef industry – another industry hit by reliance on export markets, U.S. policy and overzealous media.

As the call for the end to the Doha round of negotiations is mandated for 2010, poultry and dairy industries in Canada are faced with the very real possibility of having imported products compete with their own.  But will consumers know what they are buying now, and what their options will be if tariffs are reduced? 


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