Provincial Designation Consultation Paper

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November 2013

Local Food

The Local Food Movement

The local food movement started small and has exploded into a global phenomenon. While 'local' can be interpreted in a number of different ways, in its simplest form, a local food system aims to shorten the distance between where the food is grown, harvested, or made, to where it is consumed.

Ontario's Government Involvement

Ontario has been in the local food promotion business since 1977, when Foodland Ontario, was launched. From the beginning, Foodland Ontario has partnered with farmers and retailers to sell more Ontario food to Ontarians through various branding and marketing activities.

Since 2003-04, the province has invested over $116 million in promoting Ontario fresh and processed foods. It has made a number of key investments:

Ontario's Local Food Strategy

Premier Kathleen Wynne has challenged the entire agriculture and food sector to double its growth rate and create 120,000 new jobs in Ontario by 2020. Growing Ontario's local food market is a key component of realizing these targets and the Government of Ontario is committed to working with their industry partners to increase the demand for local food. As a result, the Government of Ontario has developed an over-arching Local Food Strategy to help increase awareness of, access to, and demand for local food.

A key pillar in this strategy is Bill 36, Local Food Act, 2013, which was recently passed. The Bill will:

  • increase local food awareness, and boost sales by setting local food goals and targets in consultation with sector partners;
  • create a non-refundable tax credit of 25 per cent for farmers who donate their agricultural products to eligible community food programs such as food banks; and
  • proclaim a Local Food Week that will take place annually, beginning the first Monday in June.

In addition to the legislation, the strategy also includes other initiatives to help celebrate, support and promote local food in Ontario:

  • the recently launched Local Food Fund that is part of a $30 million dollar investment from the province to create jobs and support innovative local food projects over the next three years;
  • a government policy requiring ministries to consider local food for procurements under $25,000, demonstrating provincial leadership in supporting Ontario's farmers and food processors;
  • expanded initiatives to support direct farm marketing and farmers' markets, building on the success of existing initiatives such as Farmers' Markets Ontario's MyPick™ verified farmer program;
  • funding of $5 million to the Greenbelt Fund to continue their efforts to increase the procurement of Ontario foods by the broader public sector and support the development of regional food hubs;
  • partnerships with organizations like Farm and Food Care Ontario and Ontario Agri-food Education to increase awareness of where our food comes from and the importance of buying locally; and
  • consultations with stakeholders to determine the need and desire for a provincial designation system and if so, its components.

Taken together, these initiatives are expected to address a number of local food challenges identified by stakeholders in local food roundtable sessions held in summer 2012, and would help Ontario farmers, food processors, distributors, food service providers and retailers take advantage of consumer interest in local food.

Provincial Designations

Why is the government conducting a consultation on a provincial designation system?

The Government of Ontario is interested in looking at new ways to help identify and promote local food in a manner that would best complement its existing Foodland Ontario program. During the 2012 local food roundtable sessions, a number of stakeholders wanted more flexibility in how they could define and market local food to best meet their customer's needs. As a result, on March 25, 2013, the Premier of Ontario committed to consulting with stakeholders on a provincial designation system.

What is a provincial designation system?

A provincial designation is a system where the province identifies for consumers Ontario food products as having met distinguishing criteria related to their origin, production method and/or product characteristics. A provincial designation system has the potential to complement or expand on the existing Foodland Ontario program.

The recently negotiated CETA (Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement) between Canada and the European Union recognises some protected designations from the European Union. There is an opportunity for Ontario food producers to enhance their marketing to better position their products as uniquely Ontario.

Food designation systems are in use in Europe, the European Protected Designation of Origin and Quebec, Quebec Reserved Designation. The Foodland Ontario program is an example of an existing provincial designation system in Ontario.

Additional information on these systems can be found on the last page.

What would be the purpose of a provincial designation system?

A provincial designation system is established to increase sales of Ontario foods through promotion and marketing, and/or product protection.

The primary role of a promotion and marketing oriented designation system is to help consumers become aware of the local food available to them. Foodland Ontario is an example of a promotion and marketing oriented system. A product-protection-based system is primarily focused on helping protect unique products from substitution. The Vintners' Quality Alliance (VQA) for Ontario wines and programs for certain types of cheeses, hams and sausages from Europe are examples of product-protection-based systems.

A provincial designation system can seek to help promote local consumption at the point of production e.g. Taste of the County, Prince Edward County or help to promote a product more widely in the market, e.g. VQA for Ontario wines.

What criteria could a provincial designation system be based on?

The following three criteria are the most commonly used for food designation systems:

  1. Origin - applied to a product from a particular region that is influenced by its place of origin such as its growing conditions (type of soil, climate and geography). For example, the Foodland Ontario program is a provincial designation local food brand that partners with farmers and retailers for the promotion of food that is processed and produced in Ontario.
  2. Production Method - applied to a product influenced by the way it is made resulting in a particular advantage to the product (e.g. flavour, heritage and sustainability). For example, Quebec's Charlevoix Lamb is a provincial designated local food brand with set criteria that must be met on how it is raised (i.e. in a sheep barn from birth to the end of fattening) and its diet (i.e. barley, oats, locally produced grains and fodder, without any corn), among other things.
  3. Product Characteristic - applied to a product with a unique, value-added characteristic, such as taste, smell, texture, or claimed health benefit that sets it apart. For example, a provincial designation system based on product characteristics could provide a designation for Ontario heirloom varieties such as Berkshire Pork or value-added characteristics such as Omega-3 Pork.

What would be the implications of selecting one or more of the above criteria?

In Ontario, a provincial designation could be based on one or more criteria (e.g. origin, production method and/or product characteristic). However, the appropriate implementation, verification and enforcement mechanisms would differ based on the criteria selected. For example, it can be easy to verify geographic identifiers, but in general verifying production methods and product characteristics is more challenging and may result in additional costs for industry and government.

What potential elements need to be considered?

There are a number of elements that would need to be considered in the development of a new provincial designation for Ontario. Elements include: criteria for participation; verification; enforcement; and promotion and marketing. There are a range of approaches that could be used for each of these elements, and the optimal approach would likely depend on the purpose and objectives in implementing a provincial designation.


Participation in a provincial designation system would require producers and processors to demonstrate that their products met set criteria with respect to product origin, production method and/or product characteristics. These criteria would need to be developed in partnership with industry to ensure they are objective, clearly-defined and verifiable. For example, under Quebec's provincial designation system, Charlevoix lamb is defined by where it is produced, how it is raised and its diet.

Having well developed criteria is essential for the success of a provincial designation, in helping consumers understand what claims are being made and in protecting the integrity of the designation itself.


Once criteria have been set, it is important that appropriate verification systems are in place to ensure that the claim being made is true. As mentioned earlier, the type of verification process required would depend on the type of claim being made. For example, a claim based on place of origin (e.g. Product of Chatham-Kent) could be verified by the address of the farm or the manufacturing facility. However, a claim based on production method (e.g. Ontario Corn-Fed Beef) or product characteristic may require specific record-keeping, site visits, third-party certification or product testing to be able to verify the claim. Commitments by local food proponents could be outlined in an agreement that would permit use of the provincial designation.

The optimal verification process will depend largely on the level of assurance that is desired to ensure the integrity of the designation. If the primary purpose of the provincial designation is to support marketing and promotion activities, it may be sufficient for a producer or processor to simply attest their claim when applying to the provincial designation program.

However, if trying to protect the authenticity of products, it may be more appropriate to have more rigorous safeguards in place, such as site visits, product testing, and/or third party certification, as part of the application process. Such safeguards are more complex and require greater commitment of resources by industry; however, they help protect the integrity of the designation and provide consumers with a certain level of assurance.


There are many options available to help enforce provincial designation systems, both in terms of approach and delivery. Enforcement could be done solely on a complaints basis, as is done by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in enforcing claims around "local" and "natural." This approach reduces enforcement costs, but may lead to false claims if industry does not feel that complaints are adequately pursued. Enforcement could also be done more proactively through random product testing and/or audits of producer and processor facilities and their records. This approach would help to limit false claims, but would increase overall administrative costs and would likely require greater powers of enforcement and inspection.

In terms of delivery, this could be done through existing provincial enforcement officers, or through a third party given responsibility for administration and enforcement. For example, Quebec has created an agency, Conseil des appellations réservées et des termes valorisants, responsible for administering and enforcing its provincial designation, accrediting certified enforcement, advising the Minister on the recognition of reserved designations, and monitoring the use of recognized designations (including powers to inspect premises, seize goods and issue orders).

Promotion and Marketing

It takes time to build consumer recognition and acceptance, so a new provincial designation would require resources and tools to help build recognition and awareness. Some examples include:

  • visual identifiers (standard colours, graphics, logos, or registered marks) to provide a standard look and feel to marketing and promotional materials;
  • an on-line local food product registry that would provide a searchable database of products registered under a designation, as well as new marketing channels;
  • permitted use of key taglines, such as "Registered on Ontario's Local Food Registry as Product of Thunder Bay", to help distinguish unique Ontario products; and
  • marketing and promotion of the program through the ministry's website and other marketing/ communication channels.

What do we know so far?

During the summer of 2013, staff from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food conducted twelve interviews with key opinion leaders on provincial designation systems. From these interviews three major findings and three potential risks emerged.

Major findings:
  • merit in exploring further: a majority saw merit in continuing to explore the development of a provincial designation system;
  • build, rather than erode: any new system should build upon and not erode existing initiatives, especially the Foodland Ontario program;
  • use existing models: Foodland Ontario and VQA were recognized as highly effective programs. Regional designation systems such as Savour Ottawa were also identified as being highly valuable. Participants recommended that any new provincial designation system should consider and potentially integrate the successful methodology or characteristics of these programs.
Potential risks:
  • increased consumer confusion resulting from too many logos or brands representing local;
  • competition between the provincial designation and the regional brand;
  • high administration costs due to certification, enforcement or verification.

Discussion Questions

  1. What could be the potential advantages and drawbacks to creating a local food provincial designation system for Ontario based on criteria such as origin, production method and/or product characteristics?
  2. How could a provincial designation system work?



Foodland Ontario

Foodland Ontario was created by the Ontario government in 1977. Through its various branding and marketing activities (e.g. television, radio and print advertisements, social media, point of sale materials, calendars) Foodland Ontario has been partnering with farmers and retailers to encourage Ontario shoppers to buy Ontario food. The Foodland Ontario program has been very successful as a provincial brand identifier for local foods, with 94 per cent of Ontario consumers recognizing the Foodland Ontario logo.

Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA)

The Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) is a regulatory and appellation system which guarantees high quality and authenticity of origin for Canadian wines. It is similar to regulatory systems in France, Italy and Germany. In addition to establishing regional Designated Viticultural Areas (DVAs), the VQA system uses sub-appellations to break down a number of extremely specific geographical locations depending on different soil and climate. For example, Ontario contains three DVA's: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County. The Niagara Peninsula is further divided into 10 sub-appellations, i.e. Beamsville Bench and Vinemount Ridge. In Ontario, the Vintners Quality Alliance Act, 1999, establishes and maintains a system for Vintners Quality Alliance wine that allows consumers to identify wines on the basis of the areas where the grapes are grown and the methods used in making the wine. The Vintners Quality Alliance Ontario has been designated as the wine authority in Ontario for the purposes of administering the act and the regulations.

Regional Tourism Organizations

The Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport established 13 tourism regions, each with a strong Regional Tourism Organization, an independent, industry-led and not-for-profit organization that provides leadership and coordination to generate more economic activity. Culinary tourism works to develop and promote regional areas with local food offerings. Savour Ottawa, Savour Muskoka and Savour Stratford are just a few of the organizations that help increase regional produce, meat, craft beer and wine capacity through branding, ensuring that what consumers buy is either grown or processed regionally. Farmers, restaurants, and retailers can access the logo and resources by completing an application.


Quebec Reserved Designation

In Quebec, Bill 137, the Act Respecting Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims was adopted in April 2006 and put into force in 2008. The act helps protect the authenticity of products and the terms used to identify and promote them, through product certification based on origin or special characteristics associated with a production method or product characteristic. The legislation and associated regulations enable the use of a designation only to Quebec operators who have obtained certification for their products. It also enables prosecution of those using the designation fraudulently. Responsibility for oversight and enforcement rests with a provincial agency, the Conseil des appellations réservées et des termes valorisants. There are currently three recognized reserved designations under this act in Quebec. They include "Organic", "Agneau de Charlevoix" (Lamb from the Charlevoix region) and ice cider (recently added).


European Protected Designation of Origin

Under European Union (EU) law, the Protected Designation of Origin framework legislation came into effect in 1992. This law (enforced within the EU and being expanded internationally via bilateral trade agreements) ensures that only products genuinely originating in specific regions are allowed to be identified as such in commerce. These laws effectively protect the names of wines, cheeses, hams, sausages, seafood, olives, beers, balsamic vinegar and even regional breads, fruits, raw meats and vegetables. The application required to obtain the protected designation of origin in the EU is stringent and producers and processors must meet rigorous standards and provide proof of origin based on registered land plots. The EU provides a Database of Origin and Registration system (DOOR), documenting all of the approved designated food.

For more information:
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Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 4 November 2013
Last Reviewed: 4 November 2013