Local food bill meets resistance in Alberta

Alberta’s proposed local food legislation faces opposition from the United Conservative Party, which says the bill needs a further look.

The governing NDP insists the legislation is good as is.

The bill, which calls for changes to organic certification, a local food week and a local food council, went up for debate in the legislature last week.

Some UCP members pushed the government to move the bill to committee for further review, arguing producers may have concerns that haven’t been addressed.

For instance, forcing all organic producers in the province to acquire federal certification could be onerous, said UCP agriculture critic Rick Strankman, because it could take three years to get certified.

Organic products made and sold within Alberta currently don’t need certification, while goods sold outside the province do. The proposed changes would ensure products made and sold in Alberta get such certification. Many other provinces have similar requirements.

“(Going to committee) is an important way to deal with this legislation,” Strankman said.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said while he understands those concerns, there is no way around streamlining certification because it’s federally controlled.

Charles Newell, president of Organic Alberta, agreed that the province can’t do much about the certification process. He added the proposed changes would create a level playing field among organic farmers.

“We’re anxiously awaiting for this bill to go through. We’ve been working on it for some time,” Newell said.

However, there are more concerns.

UCP members suggested that the proposed local food council, which will provide recommendations to the government on how it could bolster the industry, be made up of elected members rather than members appointed by the minister.

“It would be industry driven rather than government driven,” Strankman said.

Carlier said having elected members isn’t necessary because the council will likely only last a year and it will not be a government agency, board or commission.

“It’s fairly informal and we’ll have the ability to select people from around the province that are involved in local food,” he said.

As the bill heads for further debate this month, Strankman said the UCP is developing amendments for potential changes.

Carlier said he is open to suggestions but stands by the legislation.

The bill is expected to pass this spring.

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