Local Food Solutions Vol. 11

Policy: What Exactly Is Local Food? 

Defining local food can be a difficult task, because it often means different things to different people. In general, when people are looking for local food they are looking for products that shorten the distance between where it was produced and where it is eaten. It gets tricky when trying to draw the line for what is in and what is out. Indeed, if you ask consumers how they define local, you are bound to hear everything from product of Canada to food from within 100km.

The Greenbelt Fund cannot be any more conclusive about how to define local food than anyone else. Therefore, this paper will not answer the question, but will rather outline some of the issues that the foodservice industry and the Broader Public Sector have encountered when trying to define local food.

In Ontario, we are fortunate to be progressing towards industry agreement on how to define local food. This is largely due to Foodland Ontario, a consumer promotion program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. The program includes a well-known brand and slogan (“Good things grow in Ontario”) to help consumers identify and purchase local products. As of 2012, the Foodland logo was recognized by 94 per cent of grocery shoppers.

Foodland Ontario has established definitions for local food based on consumer and industry consultations. The specific definitions are available on their website, but in general they state that a product is local if it is grown or raised within Ontario. Foodland has been useful in marketing fresh produce, and the brand is being used more and more for other foods such as meats, eggs, and dairy products.

While the definitions are well understood for fresh products, it is more complicated with processed food. Foodland Ontario defines a processed food to be local if the majority of the ingredients come from Ontario. They add that more than 80 per cent of the total direct costs of production must return to the province. Since this definition is somewhat subjective, Foodland Ontario often assesses processed foods on a case-by-case basis.

At the federal level, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has dealt with similar issues with processed foods. A manufacturer can use the claim "Product of Canada" when all of the ingredients, labour, and processing are Canadian. The claim "Made in Canada" can be used for foods that contain imported ingredients as long as the last substantial transformation of the product occurred in Canada. Unfortunately, consumers often confuse the two claims because little effort is put into explaining the difference between them.

Definitions also change with time. For decades, the CFIA defined local as anything from within 50km of where it was sold, but they recently revised their definition because it no longer suited consumer expectations. A final definition still has not been established, but they announced an interim definition that states local is anything produced in the province or territory in which it is sold, or food sold across provincial borders within 50km of the originating province or territory.

Similarly, OMAFRA conducted a series of consultations in late 2013 out of recognition that a number of their stakeholders wanted more flexibility in defining and marketing local foods. Part of the consultation involved discussions around regional designations, so consumers could identify foods that came from within their county or municipality.


Confusion around how to define “local” can make it difficult to identify, purchase, and market local foods. 

Progress Being Made

  • Since the Greenbelt Fund started providing grants in 2010, local food has been defined using Foodland Ontario’s definitions. This has provided clarity for our project partners throughout the value chain who, at the outset, were not sure how they should be defining and tracking local food.

  • Tracking and promotion of local food is becoming common practice for Ontario’s foodservice and distribution companies. Almost all the major distributors of food can provide “velocity reports” that provides summary your purchases of local food. The distributors and many foodservice operators are also actively marketing and promoting local products on their ordering sheets and in public sector cafeterias.

Some Solutions

  • To find suppliers and buyers of local food, visit Ontariofresh.ca, Ontario’s largest and most diverse business-to-business marketplace for local food.

  • If you are interested in obtaining free Foodland Ontario point-of-sale marketing materials, you can go to Foodland Ontario’s website and complete their online order form.

  • If you are interested in obtaining a license agreement to use the Foodland Ontario logo, you can download the application form from their website. You can also contact Foodland Ontario's Client Services Officer for more details at 1-888-466-2372 ext. 63947 or by email at [email protected]

  • If you like to purchase local food or be informed about how much local food you are buying, ask your distributor or foodservice company for information. Most companies should be able to provide details on what local foods are available for purchase.

Keep your eyes open for our next Local Food Solution Paper, Foodservice Regulations in the BPS. Follow@ontariofresh on Twitter to join the conversation.

This series is written with contributions from: Kathy Macpherson, Franco Naccarato, and Brendan Wylie-Toal.