To Mar­ket, To Mar­ket

Where is your money re­ally go­ing? From high-tech drones to low-tech sav­ing tips, here are the checks and bal­ances Is that re­ally or­ganic? Heather Beau­mont on food fraud

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From high-tech drones to low-tech sav­ing tips

WITH FOOD FRAUD in the news, Cana­di­ans are be­com­ing more aware of the im­por­tance of learn­ing about the produ- cers, man­u­fac­tur­ers and sup­pli­ers we rely upon to put safe, qual­ity food on our tables.

Food fraud is the mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a prod­uct’s com­po­si­tion or the adul­ter­ation (sub­sti­tu­tion or di­lu­tion) of in­gre­di­ents for eco­nomic gain. With re­ports of scams and in­creas­ing agri­cul­tural and food im­ports, the risk of food fraud has be- come a global con­cern.

“Con­sumers need to be more savvy. We need to un­der­stand how food is pro­duced, where it comes from and be more aware when it comes to prod­uct la­belling,” says Aline Dim­itri from the Cana­dian Food In­spec­tion Agency (CFIA).

Es­tab­lished in 1997, the gov­ern­ment agency mon­i­tors and regu-

lates the safety of our food sup­ply, in­clud­ing an­i­mal and plant health and en­forces pack­ag­ing and la­belling laws. The CFIA en­cour­ages Cana­di­ans to contact them about sus­pected food fraud. From 2012 to early March of 2018, the CFIA un­der­took 705 in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

An un­sus­pect­ing con­sumer could buy fruits and veg­eta­bles that are not cer­ti­fied but sold as or­ganic for a higher price. Tilapia fish filets can be la­belled as red snap­per. Food fraud also in­cludes the mis­la­belling of in­for­ma­tion on a pack­age, in­clud­ing prod­uct weight. So a potato chip bag might con­sist of only 210 grams of chips when the la­bel in­di­cates 220 grams.

Food fraud im­pacts ev­ery­one within a sup­ply chain from the grower and fisher to the man­u­fac­turer, sup­plier and re­tailer. “In­dus­try is work­ing to­ward end-to-end trace­abil­ity. Trac­ing a prod­uct from the mo­ment it’s grown to the mo­ment it’s pur­chased. They see the val­ueadd for con­sumers and for them­selves,” ex­plains Dim­itri, the CFIA’s deputy chief food safety of­fi­cer.

Ver­i­fi­ca­tion from an in­dus­try body can also of­fer re­as­sur­ance that food prod­ucts meet strict guide­lines. Farm­ers who sell pro­duce they’ve grown at farm­ers mar­kets are en­cour­aged to dis­tin­guish them­selves through the Farm­ers’ Mar­kets On­tario ver­i­fi­ca­tion pro­gram, launched in 2008. “Farms are in­spected,” ex­plains ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Cather­ine Clark. “Farm­ers are happy to have this be­cause they’re com­pet­ing with re­sellers.” The re­seller also sells at farm­ers mar­kets, but the pro­duce is from a sup­plier.

Cana­di­ans visit mar­kets to chat with farm­ers and buy di­rect from the field. But those per­fect to­ma­toes or cucumbers may have been masspro­duced in a green­house. They may even be from the food ter­mi­nal. Clark sug­gests we ask the ven­dors how they grow their pro­duce and ques­tion why the pro­duce is so uni- form, large or per­fect in ap­pear­ance.

We can also check the Cana­dian Pro­duce Mar­ket­ing As­so­ci­a­tion’s avail­abil­ity guide and buy fruits and veg­eta­bles in sea­son.

Read pack­ag­ing la­bels. Cana­dian leg­is­la­tion re­quires that prod­uct la­bels en­able ac­ces­si­bil­ity so con­sumers can con­nect with the im­porter or man­u­fac­turer.

Be sure to check the best-be­fore date on foods like meat and dairy. The best-be­fore date in­di­cates the fresh­ness, flavour and shelf life of an un­opened prod­uct. Best-be­fore date and ex­pi­ra­tion date are of­ten con­fused. If the ex­pi­ra­tion date has passed, it in­di­cates that the nu­tri­ent con­tent or the food’s com­po­si­tion may have changed from what’s listed on the prod­uct la­bel. Ac­cord­ing to the CFIA, if the ex­pi­ra­tion date has passed, toss it out.

Buy lo­cally. It’s im­por­tant to know our food sup­plier, our gro­cer, butcher or fish­mon­ger. Ask where the prod­uct comes from. Ask how the ven­dor can be sure the prod­uct la­bel is ac­cu­rate. Ask if fish or meat was ac­tu­ally cut in-store or if it was al­ready cut when it ar­rived.

As food tech­nol­ogy has evolved and sup­ply chains have be­come more com­plex, the risks to our food sup­ply have also changed. The CFIA has re­cently pub­lished pro­posed reg­u­la­tions on safe food for Cana­di­ans based on con­sul­ta­tions with con­sumers and the food in­dus­try.

The pro­posed reg­u­la­tions will mod­ern­ize food safety leg­is­la­tion and bring into ef­fect new pro­hi­bi­tions to food tam­per­ing, de­cep­tive prac­tices and hoaxes; strengthen food trace­abil­ity; and im­prove im­port con­trols.

Ask­ing ques­tions about the foods we buy, re­port­ing con­cerns to gov­ern­ment and let­ting in­dus­try sup­pli­ers know we’re watch­ing them, is the way safety-con­scious Cana­di­ans can com­bat food fraud and pro­tect our fam­i­lies.

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