We got some nice press this week around the funding we received through the BC Buy Local program but I have to admit to having mixed feelings about certification programs/labels/marketing campaigns that focus on a word... like "humane,""local" and "organic." Don't get me wrong, I'm generally a big fan of these words but I worry that when people see them on a label, they too often stop asking questions.
There seems to be a perception that all things local are good. "Local" is a geographic reference and buying local has an economic impact. But beyond that, it doesn't tell you a whole lot. There are local factory farms abusing animals and local companies exploiting workers just like anywhere else in the world. "Organic" is nice in theory but would it surprise you to know that organic animal feed usually contains ingredients imported from the other side of the globe? Many "humane" standards allow practices such as gestation crates for sows and beak and toe clipping for birds. We really have to look beyond the labels.
At this point in the conversation people usually tell me that what we need is more government oversight. I get really uncomfortable when people start calling for more legislation around these sorts of issues. The last thing we need is more government interference in our food system. As one of my mentors, Joel Salatin says:
"We don't need a law against McDonald's or slaughterhouse abuse... we ask far too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is... empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to OPT OUT EN MASS."
I don't have the answers to these problems but I don't think the answer is going to come from having fewer conversations. So next time you see a shiny label that says "ethically produced," ask to speak to someone who can explain what is ethical about the way it was produced. Or next time someone tells you something is "local," ask them about their employment standards. You get the idea. Try to think of least one question to ask to make people back up these claims and learn more about the practices and standards your money will be supporting. Nothing can propel change better than consumer demand so please remember how much power you have....and don't be afraid to use it!