Federal changes mean Product of Canada labels get new meaning

People have been talking about buying local products for several years now, and all that time buying something that said Product of Canada was something of a farce.


The reality was that a “Product of Canada” did not necessarily contain any Cana­dian grown food in it.

In the spring 2007, pet food containing dangerous levels of melamine caused the deaths of thousands of dogs and cats in North America. The additive -which is banned for use in food in Canada and the U. S. – came from wheat gluten imported from China. At least one of the contaminated pet foods was made in Canada and said so on the packaging. That was one of the triggers that got people wondering what Product of Canada really meant.

Then, in October of 2007, CBC’s Marketplace reported on ice cream made with im­ported ingredients. Federal rul­es at that time allowed the maker to claim it was a “Product of Canada.”

That TV show prompted a huge outcry, and the federal government recently announc­ed that the rules would be changed.

Speaking from a farm that produced apples, Prime Min­ister Stephen Harper told Cana­dians in a TV interview “Under our new rules, if something in the grocery store is marked Product of Canada, it must mean all or virtually all the contents are Canadian. All ap­ples in the juice will come from Canadian Farmers. … The cod in fish sticks will come from Canadian waters, and all the milk in ice-cream will come from Canadian dairy cows.”

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced guidelines last July that became effective on Dec. 31.

In the past, for example going back to the 1980s, mak­ing the claim of Product of Canada was legal, as long as 51 per cent of the input costs were Canadian and the product was "transformed" here. So, the label on a particular brand of marmalade  was allowed to claim it was a Product of Can­ada, even though no ingredient (Seville orange, peel, and juice, sugar, liquid sugar, concen­trat­ed Seville orange juice) came from this county, because more than half of the costs associated with making that marmalade would have come from things like labour, processing, and packaging. The company could have also said the marmalade was “Made in Canada,” as the two claims could be used virtually interchangeably.

Under the new rules, for a product to make that claim, 98 per cent of the ingredients must come from Canada. In addition, the major "transformation" of the product – the process that turns ingredients into the food being sold (tomatoes into pasta sauce, for instance) – must be from Canada.

Food processors are allow­ed to use tiny amounts of im­ported ingredients, such as spic­es, as long as they are two per cent or fewer of the total ingredients.

So "Product of Canada" will now mean that virtually all the ingredients were grown here – hence supporting Canadian farmers – and that the food was made here, supporting Cana­dian jobs.

As for Made In Canada, that claim will be allowed if "the last substantial transformation on the product" occurred in Canada. But food manufac­tur­ers will have to qualify that state­ment. They will have to say either "Made in Canada from imported ingredients," or "Made in Canada from domes­tic and imported ingredients." Any product where the im­port­ed ingredients add up to more than two per cent of the total ingredients would have to use that statement.

To use that marmalade, under the new rules, the label would be: "Made in Canada from imported ingredients."

The company does not have to specify which ingredients are imported.