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Apr 25


Defining ‘Local’ for the Food System

by Hannah Martin
How do you define ‘local’?

As Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star reported this morning, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) dictates that food many only travel up to 50-kilometres for it to be deemed local.

Real Food For Real Kids, featured in Catherine Porter's Toronto Star article on the CFIA definition of 'local.'

Porter made this discovery on Wednesday, after a visit to Real Food for Real Kids kitchen.

“A couple months ago, it [RFFRK] was a local food pioneer, serving local, healthy lunches and snacks to 200 daycares and schools in the city,” says Porter.

“Since a recent visit from a CFIA inspection agent, it now serves Ontario-grown, healthy lunches and snacks to those same kids.”

In early April a similar case from Allison surfaced, after a Burger joint was told by the CFIA to remove all ‘local’ claims.

At Local Food Plus, our certification standards understand local and sustainable as intrinsically linked; it is the marriage of these two concepts that we believe will push forward a more sustainable food system.

That said, we question how feasible a 50-kM definition is, and how it translates into practice.

In some communities, it is possible to achieve a 50-KM ‘farm-to-fork’ relationship at the farmers market. However, in cities like Toronto – where some people commute over 50-KM simply to arrive at work – the question of ‘local’ becomes increasingly fraught.

And then there’s the question of distribution. When food travels through another set of hands in transport – to food coops or retail markets – staying within these bounds becomes even more challenging.

While we are always in favour of the farmers market’s model of direct sale, we also understand that there are many paths within the food system.

As we’ve mentioned before, the food supply chain is a complex system of players; not simply growers and suppliers, but also transporters, warehouses, retailers, service organizations, and other organized bodies – NGO’s, government, shareholders – as well as consumers.

When food is potentially touched by some (or all) of these levels from ‘farm-to-table,’ where do you draw the line? Pretty quickly you’re back to a mapped boundary, defining provincially.

We need to find a working definition of local – one that is inclusive of the many players in the food system, as well as our urban communities.

While a provincial definition may be less than ideal, due to a province like Ontario’s scale, this work is difficult and we must make compromises in order make food systems progress.

Strict definitions like 50-KM might seem easy to conceptualize; however, this quickly becomes problematic when you begin to codify.

Once you start pulling out the measuring tape, and arguing semantics – whether a product sourced 45-KM is more ‘local’ than a product that’s traveled 55KM – it might appear as though we’re doing more harm than good.

Let’s not bog down progress in moving local sustainable food systems forward by (to quote Porter) putting such a short ruler on the word local.