Alberta local food bill passes in legislature

Alberta’s local food bill recently passed in the legislature, an act the government hopes will help bolster the sector.

The bill will see the establishment of a local food council, which will be made up of members who will provide recommendations on how the province can improve the industry.

A local food week will also be established, and the bill will ensure all organic producers get certified federally. Previously, farmers who sold organic products within Alberta didn’t require certification.

While the governing NDP and some producer groups championed the legislation, it faced opposition from the United Conservative Party (UCP).

UCP members argued in the legislature that the bill needed more consultation and that moving it to committee for further review would be prudent.

As well, Conservative members said organic certification for all producers could be onerous. They also pushed to see the food council made up of elected members, rather than ones appointed by the minister.

UCP amendments to the bill that addressed such issues were shot down in the legislature.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier argued the government held extensive consultations with producers, meeting with more than 70 people in the sector and receiving feedback from 170 people though online consultations.

As well, he has said electing members to the food council aren’t necessary because it’s fairly informal and will likely only last a year.

Organic Alberta, which represents Alberta’s organic farmers, supported the bill. Charles Newell, president of the organization, has said the certification changes create a level playing field because uncertified farmers won’t be able to now claim products as organic.

As well, Newell has said the new certification rules will ensure consumers remain confident in knowing that their purchases are indeed organic.

The rules will come into effect in April 2019, and Organic Alberta has various programs designed to help farmers through the transition period.

Individuals who aren’t certified organic but are found marketing their products as if they are organic could face fines of up to $5,000. Companies who do this could face fines of up to $20,000.

The province will only implement the fines as a last resort, and will focus on educating producers about the changes.

The bill passed third reading May 30 with support from 34 NDP members. Ten UCP members, one Alberta Party member and one independent MLA opposed the bill.

Forty-one MLAs were absent for the vote. It still requires royal assent to become law.

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