Alta. aims to bolster local food sector

New provincial legislation will create a local food council and local food week and change organic certification

As demand for food grown and made in Alberta continues to surge, the province is hoping a slight boost to the sector will help it expand further.

The province tabled the Supporting Alberta’s Local Food Sector Act in the legislature last week. Once passed, it will allow for the establishment of a local food council, which will provide recommendations to the government on how to improve the industry. The legislation will also allow for the creation of a local food week, as well as new organic certification requirements for products sold within Alberta.

The legislation was about a year in the making and was largely in response to recent survey data that shows market share for local food in Alberta has more than doubled, reaching slightly more than $1 billion.

“The fact that market share doubled in the last 10 years is great news because a lot of people are interested in where their food comes from,” provincial Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said during a news conference.

“There’s no doubt it will expand.”

Many producer groups who were at the announcement welcomed the new legislation. Some have long been advocating for ways the province can bolster the industry because many small farming operations have had a hard time keeping up with demand.

For example, many small producers simply can’t invest in more greenhouses or storage units to become full-time operations. As well, there is a shortage of abattoir facilities to process chickens and smaller livestock, said Jason Andersen, president of the Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association.

While the government doesn’t yet have plans in place for new grants or programs to mitigate those challenges, it will be relying on the local food council to come up with recommendations that will inform officials on how to address those needs. The council will be made up of small and large producers, as well as others in the processing sector.

The council will also find ways for the government to give Albertans more access and become more aware of local food. It will also provide advice on how the government should approach labelling and certification for such products.

“We’ll look for advice for certain terms that promote local food, and I think the local food council will help with that,” Carlier said.

As for the local food week, it will take place during the third week of August and will coincide with Open Farm Days, which is a two-day weekend event held across Alberta. The goal of the week is to make consumers more aware of local products and the farmers who produce them.

As for changes to organic certification, producers who sell their products within the province will soon have to comply with federal regulations.

Currently, producers who sell their products within the province don’t need to comply with the federal rules. That said, if they sell their products outside the province, they must comply.

These new regulatory changes will come into effect in April 2019. Attaining federal certification shouldn’t come with extra costs, said Charles Newell, president of Organic Alberta.

“This will give the consumer the confidence that they are actually buying a certified organic product,” he said, noting it will also create a level playing field among farmers.

“I don’t see an issue maintaining it.”

Individuals who aren’t certified organic but market their products as if they are organic could face fines of up to $5,000, and companies who do this could face fines of up to $20,000. The province will implement the fines only as a last resort and will focus on educating producers about the changes.

The bill is expected to pass this spring.

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