'Local' Food May Not Be So Local in the UK

A recent report found that shoppers in England and Wales who bought local food may not be supporting local farmers as they previously thought. Inspectors with the Local Government  Regulation announced that foods labeled 'local' actually came from other European countries and sometimes, even from as far away as New Zealand.

The BBC reported that out of the 558 items that were tested in 300 shops, restaurants, markets, and factories labeled as 'local', nearly a fifth were making the claim falsely. The report found misleading labels including "Welsh lamb" which actually came from New Zealand, "Somerset butter" from Scotland, and "Devon ham" from Denmark.

The LGR said 18% of the local claims were "undoubtedly false," with a further 14% unverifiable.  The LGR chairman has called this trend "extremely worrying." The report also showed that some locally caught fish was processed in China, and that 'fresh local cream' might be a cream substitute containing vegetable fat.

Last year something similar was exposed in Los Angeles. NBC led a team to local farmers markets and found that most of the food produced where not locally grown or organic. They found that the vendors were selling vegetables and fruit they had bought wholesale, and were selling it at premium prices at local farmer's markets, claiming it was locally grown and organic.

So how can consumers support local farmers?

Speak to the Vendors: Ask questions. Speak to them about where their farm is, what they produce, how long they've been farming, what kind of pest and disease control they use etc. If you live in the US you can check a site like LocalHarvest to see if the farm or farmer is listed.  Real farmers often have barely concealed pride in the food that they grow - seek this out.

Study the produce: Organic produce looks dramatically different from supermarket conventional produce. For one thing, it looks more natural. Look for colour, shape and size variations. Organic apples do not have a waxy sheen for example. Keep an eye out for these subtle clues.

Figure out what's in season: This is perhaps the most obvious clue. Know your seasonal fruit and vegetables. Even meat and fish falls under 'seasonal' food. Finding strawberries in December or watermelon in April are obvious tip-offs. Ditto for tropical fruits. While some local farmers have heated greenhouses to grow produce year-round, not all do. It therefore makes sense to talk to the vendor if you see out of season produce.

Many farmers market's also carry secondary produce like bread, jams, jellies, honey, vinegar, olive oil etc. For all these products as well ask your questions to find out if they really are local, sustainable and organic.

Photo Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©