There is plenty to be found in the Made-in-Canada food brand
By Lauren Exley
When it comes to our nation’s economy, the Made-in-Canada brand is one in which Canadians can take well-deserved pride.
Consumers who buy Canadian grown and produced food “support jobs in our communities and the sustainability of our food system,” says Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
While the social and economic benefits of supporting local food growers and manufacturers might hold a certain place in the hearts of Canadians, the mechanics behind our country’s esteemed food brand may be less clear.
“Our industry, government and academics are committed to making sure the foods we eat are safe, and that we have an ever-improving system that ensures that safety,” says Susan Abel, vice president of Safety and Compliance at Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC).
A 2010 ranking by the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy found that Canada ranked fourth in food safety performance among the 17 largest Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, Abel says. “We believe we’d rank even higher today because of improvements made since they conducted the study.”
Describing the dedication of the people who look after Canada’s food safety programs in the industry as “astonishing,” Abel adds, “They go beyond the call of duty to make sure that our food is safe and that it is what the label says it is.”
Of surprise to some, however, is that being a bona fide Canadian brand doesn’t necessarily mean a sole reliance on ingredients sourced from within our borders.
Naturally, due to Canada’s climate, certain ingredients cannot be grown domestically. Spices, sweeteners and some fruits, for instance, are routinely imported and integrated into Canadian food brands. But what matters are the mechanisms that help manufacturers ensure that imported ingredients are as safe as the ones they purchase locally. Among these tools are supplier guarantees with trusted traders, validation testing in Canada to verify these guarantees, third party audit certification schemes and on-site visits by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
For example, Ontario-based Crofter’s Organic incorporates ingredients such as organic cane sugar from Brazil and Maqui berries from Patagonia into jams and fruit spreads that are recognized throughout North America for their quality and taste.
Crofter’s Organic has produced preserves under its own label and for leading retail chains in Canada and the U.S. for more than 25 years. Suppliers are required to provide certificates of analysis before they ship each lot, says Crofter’s president Gerhard Latka, adding that each shipment is held to the highest quality and safety standards.
This kind of supply-chain management diligence also guards against counterfeit or misrepresented ingredients, a risk that companies operating in the agri-food sector are sensitive to.
It has come to light that unscrupulous suppliers have tried – and continue to try – to sell ingredients that are misrepresented. An example is honey that doesn’t conform to North American safety standards, says Simon Fraser University biologist and professor Mark Winston, author of Bee Time, Lessons from the Hive.
“Imported honey may be contaminated with pesticides and antibiotics that are banned in Canada,” he explains. “It may also be adulterated with corn syrup.” In 2010, he reports, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration charged six foreign companies with fraudulent exportation of honey tainted with banned antibiotics, and avoidance of $80-million in tariffs.
“We take this issue very seriously,” says Abel. “There have been some recent examples that caught a lot of media attention, such as the horsemeat scandal in Europe and some instances in emerging economies where materials were not what was claimed.
“In Canada, we have very thorough systems in place to reduce the chance of that kind of activity happening.”
“As these extensive quality and safety control measures reveal, those who shop for price alone may be missing out on a broad spectrum of ‘Made in Canada’ benefits,” says Bonnett.
Shoppers who purchase Canadian brands ensure benefits flow to Canada in multiple ways, such as helping to sustain local farms and food manufacturers, regardless of whether those food makers are homegrown or international subsidiaries.
In smaller communities in Ontario, where a number of food processors have closed down in recent years, local employment has taken a dramatic hit, Bonnett notes. “It’s important to understand that personal purchasing decisions can make a huge difference in the economic activity of Canada.”
In sectors ranging from dairy operations and Alberta’s renowned Angus beef to value-added products such as sauces and health supplements, the Canadian food industry employs almost 300,000 people and operates more than 6,000 manufacturing facilities in every region across the country. Canada’s food manufacturing industry also purchases about 43 per cent of the country’s agricultural output.
About 24 per cent of its production is exported to other countries, where the Canadian brand is recognized as an indication of the highest quality and safety.
According to Bonnett and Abel, Canada’s reputation for food safety and quality is both worth celebrating and something Canadians should keep in mind when shopping for groceries.