By Michelle Jaelin, RD.
When you go the grocery store, farmers market or other food retailer, do you wonder whether the food grown and raised here is safe for you and your family? Do you ever question the quality of food here in Canada? As a Canadian-born Chinese consumer and a registered dietitian (RD), I find food in Canada to be safe and affordable! Let me tell you why.
Abundance of Choice
Safe, quality food choices are things many Canadians don’t need to think about often. In Canada, consumers often have the freedom of choice in our purchases, whether it’s organic or conventionally grown food, grass-fed, non-genetically modified foods or foods that support certain animal welfare practices. Rarely do we see food shelves in the grocery store empty. Markets, grocery stores and other retailers also often carry a variety of foods, giving you the consumer the abundance of choice.
Canada’s Food Quality and Safety
Food production in Canada is highly regulated. Canadian farmers must follow the rules of food safety, environmental regulations and codes of practice for the care and handling of animals. The National Animal Care Council works with government, farmers, veterinarians, humane societies, food companies, restaurants and others to develop a national approach to animal welfare. Many of Canada’s livestock sectors have established on-farm animal care assessment programs based on the Codes. These Codes are encompass many factors, including ongoing research to ensure best practices.
There are programs that govern use of pesticides, including when and how to apply them safely. Other programs use HACCP (Hazards Analysis Critical Control Points) to specify where farmers must identify and manage where there can be a food safety risk. Restaurants and food retailers also must follow similar principles to ensure health and safety. On a farm, these programs oversee all aspects of farming. Examples include the appropriate way of introducing new animals onto a farm, or ensuring milk is stored at an appropriate temperature before it is shipped out to a processor. Although every farm is different, farmers must ensure they meet food safety requirements and keep records of their processes because they are subject to audit.
How Would I Know Where My Food Came From?
In order to ensure the foods produced in Canada remain safe to eat, all foods have a means of tracking from the farm to your table. This is done through a process called “traceability.” This is a method of accountability. It ensures that what you’re getting as the consumer is what you think you are getting without any shortcomings or surprises. With this process, the product can also be traced back to its origins should something go wrong.
One example is the IP (identity preserved) program for food-grade soybeans to track all steps of the process to ensure the soybeans sold to buyers are of authentic quality. Another example is radio-frequency identification (RFID) ear tags for livestock, which uses a national database of animal movement so animals can be tracked should there be a food safety or disease outbreak problem (source: The Real Dirt on Farming – latest issue)
What We’ve Learned during the COVID-19 Pandemic and Agriculture
There are always new diseases in both people and animals. COVID-19 is an example of this, demonstrating the impact it can have on human health, the economy and why it’s important to be prepared. This is why it is the role of major public health agencies, including the World Health Organization and others to work with animal, plant and human health experts to prevent diseases and food outbreak problems. There are experts who work in public health agencies whose roles are to monitor, study and prepare for potential animal and human health disease outbreaks. In Canada, there are thousands of people working every day to ensure Canadians have the safest and healthiest food system possible. Find out more about how the Canadian Food Inspection Agency works to prevent food safety risks at all levels of the Canadian food system.
What I have noticed most about farming and agriculture in Canada is the number of farmers telling their stories with transparency and honesty. In an information-saturated world, it’s hard to know what information to believe and trust. That’s where transparency is important. What I have learned through talking with farmers, emailing them my questions and bringing up consumer concerns I receive from the public – is that farmers are open to explaining how and why they do things on the farm.
Questions I’ve raised include: the kinds of feed given to livestock, the types of shelter for animals (such as for chickens) and how often their crops are sprayed with pesticides. In my experience of asking questions, farmers have been open and honest about their farming practices. If I found any food or farming practice to be insufficient or dangerous, as a registered dietitian, I wouldn’t recommend it to clients and patients.
Want to see more about what happens on farms? Here are some excellent resources:
- RealDirtonFarming.ca: Guide to food & farming in Canada
- FarmFood360.ca: Virtual farm tours
- Ask a Farmer: Farmers answer consumer questions
- On the Farm Videos: Short behind the scenes videos of what happens on a farm.
As a consumer, I can understand how it can be a challenge to understand the food system and how food gets from the farm to you. However, technology and safety on the farm have never been safer than it is now. You can trust that the food produced here in Canada is not only safe, but also affordable, high-quality and farmed with the some of the best farming practices in the world.