- It is food produced in the province or territory in which it is sold, or
- It is food sold across provincial borders within 50 km of the originating province or territory
In explaining the change in policy, the CFIA stated that its former approach was “outdated” and did “not reflect current food production practices or consumer needs and expectations.” Although there may be some questions regarding how the 50-km cross-border figure was determined, it is now fairly simple for restaurants and food producers to determine that food that comes from inside the province can be labelled “local.”
The CFIA has qualified this reinterpretation of “local,” however, and provided further guidance on how restaurants and food producers can assist their customers in respect of “local” product claims. First, the CFIA has noted that the reinterpretation is an interim policy, while it conducts the larger policy review. Second, the CFIA has encouraged restaurants and food producers to add qualifiers to the “local” label, such as the city or region of origin, in order to tell consumers where the product specifically comes from.
Proposed changes in Ontario legislation
For Ontario food producers and restaurants, this change in CFIA interpretation dovetails into prospective changes in food legislation in the province. In March 2013, the Government of Ontario reintroduced the proposed Local Food Act, meant to help expand the production and consumption of local food in Ontario. Importantly, the definition of “local food” in the Local Food Act generally mirrors the CFIA’s interpretation of “food produced or harvested in Ontario,” although the CFIA’s cross-border definition is broader. A similar definition of “local” on federal and provincial levels should help clarify what can be a confusing process for restaurants and food producers.
Food product labelling is a difficult exercise. For example, producers and sellers using terms such as “fresh,” “organic,” “homemade,” and “natural” should pay close attention to CFIA interpretations of what these terms mean. In light of this closely regulated environment, it is refreshing for those involved in the industry to have a clear, bright-line test as to whether a product is “local” or not, and these recent federal and provincial changes can help restaurants and consumers make informed choices about the food they buy.
About the author
Derek Ronde is a partner at Cassels, Brock & Blackwell LLP, a law firm in Toronto, Ontario, and specializes in franchise law, including restaurant and foodservice franchise matters.