Where does our food come from anyway?

Time and again, when I talk with both farmers and consumers about local food and supporting farmers, I am asked why we have such a poor labelling system for food grown and produced in Canada.

Time and again, when I talk with both farmers and consumers about local food and supporting farmers, I am asked why we have such a poor labelling system for food grown and produced in Canada.

As citizens, we have the right to know where our food comes from.

We also have the right to know that the food we eat is grown and processed to the standards we have here in Canada.

By choosing food grown and processed in Canada, we not only support Canadian farmers but we help create a more diversified local food system, we keep processing jobs in Canada and we reduce food miles.

However, a visit to a supermarket quickly reveals how confusing our labelling system is.

So why is it so difficult for our politicians to put in place a Product of Canada labelling system that makes it easy for us to choose Canadian food.

Could it be that the large retailers, processors and distributors do not want us to know where the food we buy was grown or processed?

They know Canadians want to buy Canadian food – that is why they put the small quantities of local food they carry, at the front of the store and why they develop their own brands.

However, while they spend some marketing dollars to make it appear they are supporting local farmers, at the same time these corporations are busy looking for the cheapest food to stock their shelves.

Cheap food for supermarket shelves usually means importing food from countries were standards are lower, labour is cheaper because workers live in poverty or the environment is being destroyed to grow cheap exports.

The National Farmers Union has asked that Product of Canada labelling be made mandatory for fruits and vegetables which are 100 per cent grown and processed in Canada.

In addition, food products processed in Canada with imported ingredients should specify the origin and the percentage of the imported ingredients.

To avoid consumer confusion, we recommend that the country of origin be clearly and prominently displayed on food products which have grades like ‘Canada Fancy’ and ‘Canada Choice’.

The NFU also supports the use of Product of Canada and country of origin labelling on meat as a way to re-localize the Canadian food system and reduce our export dependence.

If you want to know where your food comes from, and if you want to support Canadian farmers when your buy food, make sure you ask the political candidates in your riding how they would support Canadian family farms through labelling.

Then once the election is over, be ready to remind the winning candidate about the need for a meaningful Product of Canada labelling system.

Ann Slater is an National Farmers Union (NFU) Region 3 (Ontario) national board member who farms near St. Marys, Ontario.

The NFU works toward the development of economic and social policies that will maintain the family farm as the primary food-producing unit in Canada. The National Farmers Union is the only voluntary, direct-membership national farm organization in Canada.

It is also the only farm organization incorporated through an Act of Parliament (June 11, 1970). Contact: Ann Slater, 519-349-2448 or aslater@quadro.net