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The CFFO Commentary: Helping our Consumers to Choose Ontario Food

By Henry Stevens
January 7, 2011

Canada has some strict rules regarding truth in advertising. Advertisers are expected to tell the truth about their products and refrain from misleading the buying public. There are consequences for failing to do so. That leads to several questions about whether labels, and the information they contain, should qualify as advertisements. I would argue that labels and advertisements should be held to the same standard regarding accuracy and truthfulness. And I believe that’s particularly important for identifying where food is grown.

Canadian consumers have the right to expect the complete truth about what they are buying. We should not be misled as to what certain labeling phrases actually mean. Canadians need to understand that phrases such as “processed for ….” or “packaged for…” say absolutely nothing about the origin of the raw ingredients of the product on the shelf. Such labels should raise a red flag for us. These labels usually suggest to me that the main ingredients are not Canadian grown.

Of course, there is room for watering down certain requirements on Canadian content. But if we use that approach, we need to be truthful with consumers about that fact. For example, products containing pineapples or certain spices which are not produced in Canada need to be clearly identified as such. Still, setting reasonable targets of at least 80 to 85 per cent home-grown food on products carrying the “Product of Canada” label make sense.

What should we do? The CFFO has written a letter to the editor of the major daily newspapers, as well as the many weekly papers in Ontario. We urge Ontario consumers to ask many questions regarding product labels on supermarket shelves. If they are not satisfied with the available information on the labels, they need to let their retailers and politicians know.

At the recent “Farmers Matter” event in Stratford, the message that we need clearer labeling rules in Canada was repeated over and over. Many other jurisdictions around the world find ways to differentiate their home grown products, regardless of so-called trade threats. The Foodland Ontario label, used extensively by Ontario’s fruit and vegetable growers, is an example of a label carrying consumer confidence. We should expand it to include all Ontario grown products. It would eliminate the confusion currently in the marketplace and tell consumers they can buy with confidence, knowing they are buying top quality, Ontario grown foods, for themselves and their families.

So what is in a label? It can contain next to nothing regarding useful information, or it can be comprehensive and give us everything we need to know. Consumers should demand the latter, because we deserve it.

Henry Stevens is the President of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.

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