Did you know that Canada grows some fine pineapples? Or that we have many thriving chocolate plantations? If you’re a grocery label reader, it might be easy to assume that all of those prepared products labelled “product of Canada” were grown here. But the current law is a little bit slippery.

A recent Reuters piece about changes to labelling laws indicates:

Current rules state that a label can say “Made in Canada” or “Product of Canada” if 51 percent of the production costs are Canadian and the last substantial transformation of the product took place in Canada.

So cocoa beans shipped to Canada to be made into chocolate bars here go to the stores with a “product of Canada” label, even though they came from somewhere else.

The Calgary Herald explains the changes:

The new standards require that any label claiming a food product is a “Product of Canada” necessarily needs to have all or virtually all of its contents be Canadian. That includes ingredients, the processing and the labour used to make the product; an exception has been made for some foreign content to be included in a Canadian product and labelled as such if minor additives or spices are not available in Canada.

This will make a huge difference for consumers, who have been mislead for years into believing that they were buying products that were grown and created in Canada, but will also be a boon for Canadian farmers and producers, who are forced to compete with imported items incorrectly labelled as being a product of this country. For example, apples grown in China that are shipped to Canada as concentrate can, under the current laws, be listed as a product of Canada, putting Canadian apple growers at a gross disadvantage.

As consumers become more aware of movements to eat locally-grown food, we put our trust in those “product of Canada” labels. We want local first, and then Canadian second. But much of what we were buying was made from imported items that were simply processed here, and we had no way of knowing if these products were grown according to Canadian health and safety guidelines. The new laws will make it clear to consumers just where their food is coming from.

To see just how confusing the current labelling system can be, CBC’s Marketplace ran a piece on “product of Canada” labelling last fall.

No word on exactly when the labelling changes will take place, but expect plenty of whining from the processed foods sector, both because of the disadvantage it will create for them on store shelves and also because of the cost of redesigning labels, which have to be done in both English and French.