Canadians love their fruits and veggies, consuming more than 50 billion servings of fresh produce annually.
With one of the safest food supplies in the world and a wide variety of produce items available to consumers throughout the year, Canadians are privileged to have access to a multitude of fresh, healthy and nutritious produce items from a variety of geographic sources. Despite the interest in exciting and delicious new exotic varieties of produce, and despite the overwhelming Canadian interest in more traditional varieties year-round, there has been a heightened consumer interest in and desire for locally-grown produce. This interest has been complicated by an inconsistent interpretation of what is meant by the term “local,” as well as some misunderstanding around how the end-consumer may benefit by purchasing and consuming local produce.
What does local mean?
Any claims on labels and advertisements of foods sold in Canada must be in compliance with the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, which prohibit false and misleading information. To facilitate compliance, CFIA has developed an interpretation policy on using the term “local.”
Under the previous policy, the CFIA interpreted the terms "local", "locally grown", or any similar term to mean that:
The CFIA recognizes that this approach is outdated and does not reflect current food production practices or consumer needs and expectations.
It is important to note that claims such as “local” are voluntary and industry are encouraged to add qualifiers such as the name of a city to provide consumers with additional information. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the regulated party to comply with applicable legislation and regulations.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is undertaking an initiative to modernize its food labeling approach and with input from consumers, industry and other stakeholders, will conduct a review of food labelling regulations, guidelines and policies including claims such as use of the term "local".
In the interim, the CFIA is adopting an interim policy which recognizes "local" as:
This interim policy has been implemented and will remain in effect until the CFIA’s labelling review is complete.
More information is available here: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/other-requirements/claims-and-statements/local-food-claims/eng/1368135927256/1368136146333
Inconsistent interpretation in common usage
Irrespective of the existing government definition, there is not always a consistent application of the term “local” in everyday usage. The following are different ways that the term “local” might be used to describe fresh produce but may not be part of the currently acceptable claims, as defined by CFIA (above):
Why all produce isn’t local
As indicated above Canadians consume over 50 billion servings of fresh produce annually. Variety, quality, price and access are key and therefore local Canadian production, though an integral part of the domestic marketplace, cannot meet this demand alone. Canadians are able to enjoy over 400 different types of fresh fruits and vegetables from over 150 different countries throughout the year and we export Canadian-grown fresh produce, adding to the variety available to consumers in countries around the world.
What factors should be considered when deciding to buy local product?
The decision to purchase local produce is a personal decision that could be based on philosophical reasons like value-economics or the desire to support local community viability. When local varieties are in season, consumers have the opportunity to purchase these fruits and vegetables as close as possible to the harvesting source, while at the same time supporting local businesses. Consumers should buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown using recognized food safety standards, regardless of the source of their produce, local or other.
What factors should not be considered in making this decision?
Despite heightened media attention, the decision to buy local produce should not be motivated by concerns over food safety or sustainability.
When at the store or market, how can consumers tell where the item really came from?
When shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, consumers who are confused at the point of purchase about what “local” means should ask the staff at the vendor or retail outlet for clarification on the origin of the products. Country of origin information is mandatory for imported fresh produce and is available at the store level either on packages or on the information made available for bulk product. Canadian content claims may be used on product produced in Canada.
What other considerations should be kept in mind?
Regardless of the geographic source of fresh produce, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the Canadian Cancer Society, Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada and Canada’s Food Guide recommend eating the suggested number of servings of fruits and vegetables every day. See http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/basics-base/quantit-eng.php or visit www.cpma.ca or www.halfyourplate.ca for more information, tips and recipes.
Food irradiation is a food safety and preservation technology, similar to pasteurization. While pasteurization uses heat to kill microorganisms, irradiation uses a form of energy called ionizing radiation. The process involves exposing food, either in bulk or packaged, for a specified amount of time to gamma rays, X-rays, or electron beam radiation. The effects of irradiation on food, animals and people eating irradiated food, have been studied extensively. Irradiation has been shown to be a safe and effective tool that can help to prevent many food borne diseases.
Why is it important?
Food irradiation has several benefits:
The effect of irradiation processing on food has been investigated more thoroughly than any other food technology. The irradiation process produces very little chemical change in food, and does not change the nutritional value of food. Extensive research and testing has demonstrated that irradiated food is safe and wholesome.
While irradiation kills most of the microorganisms present in food, it does not necessarily sterilize the food. As with all foods, appropriate precautions such as refrigeration, and proper handling and cooking must still be taken.
What You Need to Know
Only foods approved for irradiation can be sold in Canada. The current list includes onions, potatoes, wheat, flour, whole wheat flour, whole and ground spices, and dehydrated seasonings. . The Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada is responsible for the regulations specifying which foods may be irradiated and the treatment levels permitted. For a complete list of approved foods, contact Health Canada.
Canadian regulations require that all packaged foods processed by irradiation be labelled with the international symbol for irradiation and a statement that the product has been irradiated. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for the enforcement of regulations related to the labelling of irradiated food products.
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As Canadians, we are increasingly health conscious and paying greater attention to diet, exercise, and preventative medicine. A growing recognition of the nutritional attributes of fruits and vegetables has resulted in rapidly-increasing consumption of fresh produce.
Media reports on the issue of pesticide residues in food may cause fear and uncertainty, but health benefits of increased consumption of fruit and vegetables are outweighed by the potential risk of ingesting pesticide residues.
Pesticides play a vital role in protecting our food and crops from invading weeds, insects and disease. Pesticides must undergo a rigorous regulatory evaluation process by the Canadian Government before being allowed for use. The proper use of pesticides is monitored through federal government evaluation programs which include residue testing.
Health Canada has the responsibility, under the Food and Drugs Act, to ensure that all foods are fit for human consumption - safe, clean and unadulterated. For pesticides, this responsibility involves determining the safety and quantity of a pesticide residue that may be present in foods.
An extensive battery of studies are required from pesticide manufacturers to determine the nature and extent of any health risk posed by a pest control product proposed for use in Canada and scientific data on the environmental impact of a pesticide is required to support its registration in Canada.
Pesticide residue limits are established and lifetime exposures to chemicals and dietary habits of infants, children, pregnant women, and older people are accounted for in the assessment process and reviewed on a regular basis, or when new information suggests re-evaluation should be conducted.
The pesticide approval process used in Canada is one of the toughest in the world and meets or exceeds the health standards established by the World Health Organization.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for monitoring and enforcing agricultural and industrial chemical residues in foods produced locally or imported from foreign countries.
Canadians should feel confident in our government’s oversight of our food supply and continue to eat the number of servings of fruits and vegetables every day as recommended in Canada’s Food Guide.
Protective edible coatings and waxes are often applied to fruits and vegetables post-harvest, as a method of preservation. Protective coatings have been in use since the 12th Century in China. However it was not until 1922 that the waxing of produce was invented and the first commercial applications of edible coatings were applied to produce.
Fresh fruits and vegetables that may be coated with protective coatings include:
|· Apples· Avocados· Cherries· Grapefruit
Why is it Important?
As fruits and vegetables grow they develop a natural coating called a cuticle which is like a waxy layer. Once produce is harvested, it is sent to a packing house where it is often washed, a process which removes the cuticle. To replace this cuticle a protective coating may be applied to some produce.
Protective edible coatings help to slow dehydration and decay while retaining moisture and increasing shelf life. They may also improve appearance by offering an attractive sheen.
What You Need to Know?
There are numerous types of protective coatings that can be used on fresh fruits and vegetables. Components of all fruit and vegetable coatings must comply with Canadian regulations and be acceptable for use in Canada.
Waxes are indigestible and will pass through the body without breaking down or being absorbed. If you choose not to eat a protective coating, even though it is safe to do so, buy un-waxed produce or peel the fruit or vegetable. Wax is not water-soluble and does not wash off. Waxes may turn white on the surface of produce if they have been subjected to excessive heat and/or moisture. This affects only the appearance of the produce but it does not affect the quality or safety of the food.
Priority allergens* are a consideration when using protective coatings. Amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations prescribing enhanced labelling requirements for food allergen, gluten sources and sulphites were published in the Canada Gazette, Part II on February 16, 2011. The new food allergen labelling regulations came into force on August 4, 2012.
The regulatory amendments enhance the labelling of prepackaged products by requiring mandatory declaration of the sources of common food allergens and gluten when they are present in a prepackaged product. They also require the declaration of added sulphites if they are present in a prepackaged product in a total amount of 10 parts per million (ppm) or more (all previous requirements for declaring sulphites as components that require declaration stand). These declarations are required to appear on the label of the product:
In addition, the common names for starches, modified starches, hydrolyzed plant protein and lecithin must be shown to provide information regarding the source from which these ingredients are derived (for example, wheat starch).
*In Canada, the ten (10) priority food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts (includes almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios or walnuts), sesame seeds, milk, eggs, fish (including crustaceans and shellfish), soy, wheat and triticale, mustard seeds and sulphites.
** Gluten sources will need to be declared when a food contains gluten protein, modified gluten protein, or gluten protein fractions from barley, oats, rye, triticale or wheat (or a hybridized strain of any of these cereals).
"Biotechnology" means the application of science and engineering in the direct or indirect use of living organisms, or parts or products of living organisms, in their natural or modified forms. This term is very broad and includes the use of traditional or conventional breeding, as well as more modern techniques such as genetic engineering.* Biotechnology, specifically products that have been modified by genetic engineering (commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms, or GMO) provides opportunities and presents challenges and allows for the development of new food products through a variety of scientific tools and techniques.** Food biotechnology has the ability to address hunger and malnutrition issues, improve crop yields and reduce chemical usage.
The benefits of food biotechnology may include:
Overall, biotechnology seeks to improve the quality and quantity of the food supply.
What You Need To Know
In Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) share the responsibilities for the safety of novel foods developed using agricultural biotechnology.
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[i] Uzogara SG. (2000). The impact of genetic modification of human foods in the 21st century: A review. Biotechnology Advances. 18:179-206.
Organic food is produced using methods that are different from traditional agriculture. Organic agriculture is meant to promote and enhance the health of Canada’s agro-ecosystem by conserving soil and water wherever possible. Organic farmers may manage resources cyclically to maintain long-term soil fertility while avoiding the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
Why is it important?
The Canadian General Standards Board, with the Organic Sector, developed a national standard for organic production systems. The Canadian Organic Standard outlines the approved production processes and permitted substances for organic production and processing in Canada. These standards are referred to in the Organic Product Regulations 2009 (OPR 2009) and are available at the following link: http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/ongc-cgsb/programme-program/normes-standards/internet/bio-org/principes-principles-eng.html
A national organic standard for organic agriculture in Canada provides a consistent framework for organic producers to use to assist with growing and marketing their products. Having clear and consistent methodologies reduces confusion and increases the national credibility of organic production systems.
On June 30, 2009 the Organic Products Regulations came into force.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the body responsible for ensuring the safety of the Canadian food supply, enforces all regulations impacting our manufactured and imported food supply. The Canadian Organic Office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for administrating and enforcing the OPR 2009.
OPR 2009 provides a system that allows the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to regulate the certification and marketing of organic products (both imported and domestic) by defining specific requirements for organic products to be labelled as organic or that bear the organic agricultural product legend (logo). Provinces that have regulations concerning organic produce may have additional labeling requirements that could complement or supersede CFIA’s requirements.
Under the Canada Organic Regime, accredited Certification Bodies are responsible for verifying the application of the Canadian Organic Standards.
An effective and supportive organic framework provides opportunities for farmers, wholesalers and retailers to provide consumers with certified organic fresh produce. It increases credibility, decreases confusion and enhances market opportunities.
What you need to know
Organically grown and conventionally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, both imported and domestic, are equally safe and nutritious.
Fresh fruits and vegetables produced by each growing method still must comply with all of the food safety and nutritional laws of Canada.
Many people are not aware that organic production methods can include the use of permitted fertilizers and pesticides. Organic production systems use approved, registered botanical pesticides, such as pyrethrum. Pyrethrum is an insecticide which originates from Chrysanthemum flowers. Fertilizers, (usually referred to as soil amendments) range from composted organic manure to non-synthetic amino acids or calcium sulphate.
There has been much discussion in the media concerning the taste and nutritive value of organic products versus conventional products. For fresh produce some studies find differences in the sensory properties (taste, texture, acceptability, etc.) of organic produce while others do not. In the end, it is up to individual perception and taste.
As with flavour, many factors influence the nutrient content of produce which can vary due to plant variety, growing conditions, post-harvest distribution, storage and preparation methods. Extensive literature reviews to date have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally produced foods; more comparative research needs to be done. It is the overall nutrient content and variety of the diet that are important to healthy eating and not the composition of individual foods.
Overall, increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, whether organic or conventionally grown, is the most important factor for individual health.
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Canadians are fortunate to have one of the safest food supplies in the world, with a wide variety of fresh produce items available year-round. Food safety is a vital part of the production of all foods, including fresh produce, and it is an important issue for Canadians. Food safety is a shared responsibility between government, industry and consumers.