OFA Commentary #0609
By Bette Jean Crews, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Getting effective food labeling legislation for Canadians is becoming a long, complicated and expensive process.
Prime Minister Harper acknowledged the need for better labeling regulations during a speech to a farm-oriented audience in the Niagara Region last summer. At that time he promised immediate action and his government has made some good changes.
Unfortunately, input from the stakeholders didn’t find its way into the changes, and in some instances, the new regulations are problematic for the agri-food industry. That’s why the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture continue to lobby the federal government for improvements.
OFA is asking its 39,000 members to write Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Ritz to ask for better labelling rules so consumers can trust in the “Product of Canada” designation. Farmers are being urged to tell the minister that the changes were implemented in a timely manner, but they will likely do more damage than good.
The new rules require food processors to have food labelled Product of Canada to have 98 per cent Canadian content. What is the point in new rules if nobody can abide by them? There’s a loophole that will allow a Made in Canada label, but that provides consumers with no useful information about the contents.
We are calling on Canadians, farmers and consumers, to contact Minister Ritz and his bureaucrats to detail the problems with the new rules. The brief consultation period is probably to blame for many of the shortcomings in the legislation.
Consumers are hearing about the changes made by government and will expect better product information on packaging to help with purchasing decisions. Such is not the case. Food processing companies need more lead time to accomplish what is being required. Most have an inventory of labels for the next 18 to 24 months, making it impossible for them to meet the December 31st deadline. This could become an expensive waste of resources for the companies, and a major problem for the environment.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Food Processors of Canada told the consultations of a number of potential problems, but find out now their concerns were not considered in the new regulations. The Product of Canada designation is likely to disappear from store shelves because of the high compliance requirement.
In its place, we are likely to find “Made in Canada from Domestic and/or Imported Ingredients” labels, or worse still, no labels at all.
The government’s new regulations will create a number of issues for products coming from Quebec, primarily the destruction of existing domestic labelling. Brand equity developed over time will be lost in this exchange, both harming the reputation of domestic product and the expectations of consumers.
By not changing Canada’s export-oriented “Product of Canada” designation, the new government regulations will lead to two tiers of what constitutes a Canadian product. Two definitions for “Product of Canada” will add to the current level of confusion.
Canadian farmers are proud of the food they produce and truly want a labelling system that Canadian consumers can understand. By playing with words on labels, the government runs the risk of further confusing consumers and denying farmers the respect and confidence they have earned.