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Get Stuffed

By B.C.

Buy B.C. program will continue without the financial support of the B.C. government

There are a lot of compelling reasons to buy food that is grown, gathered, raised or caught in B.C.

The main reason is that it doesn’t have as far to travel to your dinner table, and as a result it’s a lot fresher.

It keeps your money in the province, which in turn helps to make B.C. more self-supporting.

It supports local farmers, keeping our rural areas alive and well, saving farms and reducing the need for subsidies.

You could also argue that the quality of B.C. food is superior, and that’s all there is to it.

Sometimes it’s also more economical to buy locally grown products, if not at grocery stores then at the popular farmer’s markets around the province.

While there are no shortage of reasons to buy B.C. products, until 1993 there was often no way to tell where the products in your local grocery stores came from.

With B.C. farmers losing market share to other countries where the cost of production was cheaper, the agricultural community and the province teamed up to create the Buy B.C Program.

Meat and produce had to be caught, raised or grown entirely within the province to bear the Buy B.C. sticker. There were ground rules for other products that have more than one ingredient as to how much B.C. content was required before they could also wear a Buy B.C. label.

Today more than 1,200 companies are registered to use the Buy B.C. logo on packaging, advertising, trucks, promotional materials and restaurant menus. Over 4,500 different food products are identified with the Buy B.C. logo and more than 250 grocery stores and 219 liquor distribution outlets participate in the merchandising program. The B.C. Cuisine program, which certifies restaurants that use B.C. ingredients whenever possible, has more than 700 participants.

It turned out that patriotic B.C.’ers were willing to pay a little more to support their local farmers, fishermen, ranchers, processors and distillers, and would actively seek out B.C. products.

Now that the Buy B.C. program is a success, the provincial government is in the process of cutting funding.

On July 4, 2001, the Liberal government took the agricultural industry by surprise when announced that they believed the Buy B.C. Program was strong enough to be controlled by the private sector.

A transition team was created to offload the responsibility for this initiative, and in the coming weeks the B.C. Agriculture Council (BCAC) will be running the show.

"At the time, when it was first announced in July, we were surprised by the decision of government," says Steve Thomson, the executive director for BCAC. "Now we’re working with the government to find ways that we can continue the program. The council is also working with other stakeholders, distributors and processors, to come up with a new design for an industry managed program."

The BCAC doesn’t have that design in place just yet, and they’re still coming to a licensing agreement with the province to use the logo and other Buy B.C. promotional material. "Those issues are all currently being negotiated, and we hope to make an announcement about the program in the not-to-distant future," he says.

The Buy B.C. program will continue to operate to basically the same standards, says Thomson, which would prevent companies from looking for loopholes in order to exploit the patriotism of consumers. The program would also continue to be transparent to the public.

"We clearly see the overall value in the program, and so do the other participants, so that’s why we’re working together to create a private program."

This is not the only program that the government offloaded onto the backs of the industry. Farmers haven’t been in this much control of their own destiny in a long time.

The government is in the process of downloading the responsibility of administering the Agricultural Land Reserve to community-based panels.

On April 16, Minister of Sustainable Resource Management Stan Hagen introduced legislation that would restructure the ALR in such a way that land owners would have more flexibility in the types of activities that could take place on their properties.

More than 30 per cent of the regulations guiding the Land Reserve Commission will be thrown out, and the commission itself will be reduced to six regional panels.

The hope is that the agricultural community will continue to add to the land in the reserve, while making intelligent and impartial choices if a land owner should apply to have their land removed from the ALR. Previously, politicians had too much sway over what lands got in and what lands could get out.

Farmers will be able to sell their land to developers under the new system, but each of the regional panels will follow a set of guidelines that will always put agricultural interests first.

Nobody knows what is going to happen in regards to the ALR, but the BCAC is relieved that its members will finally have a say in the process.

"The government is moving in all sorts of areas, so we’re busy trying to keep up with the government," says Thomson. "The most interesting aspect of this government we’re focused on is their whole outcome-based approach to regulations rather than a prescriptive approach. It’s important for us to be able to make sure that we have a competitive business environment for farmers to work in."

In other words, the government’s new approach is to allow the agricultural industry, and other resources that were previously regulated by the government, to decide on the rules and regulations that work best for them as long as the outcome matches the government’s goals in that area.

"We’re trying to make sure that the regulatory framework is one that assists farmers in being economic contributors, as we know we can be, and not one that provides for restraint and extra costs," Thomson says.

Whether less government is better for farmers has yet to be seen, but the agriculture industry welcomes the opportunity to attempt to run things for themselves.

At the same time, they realize that in separating from the government they’re losing a valuable safety net that has readily stepped in with aid and subsidies during tougher years. That’s where consumer loyalty comes in.

The continuing success of the Buy B.C. program could be the key to the industry’s ability to stand and prosper on its own.