Food imports rise: what about safety?

Originally published as a Norfolk County media release (Imports up from countries with questionable food safety standards) in 2007

Growing amounts of food imports from countries with questionable food safety standards continue to flow into Canada, threatening Canadian farms with responsible records.

That is the grim warning from Norfolk County, a rural municipality southwest of Toronto that is concerned about the viability of its local economic base.

Imports to Canada 2006“We are concerned about the effect these trends are having on our farmers, and we continue to ask our senior levels of government to act surely and quickly to protect Canadian and Norfolk producers and consumers,” said Mayor Dennis Travale.

Norfolk County has annual gross farm receipts of $419 million, making it the fifth largest agricultural area in Ontario. By comparison, Chinashipped $430 million in agricultural products to Canada last year. In total, worldwide imports of agriculture products to Canada increased by 10% in 2006 to $22.4 billion, compared to 2004.

Apple juice was China’s largest food export to Canada, up 69% compared to 2003. China shipped $28 million worth of apple juice to Canada last year, much of which may be used in juice-filled drinking boxes popular among children. China has come under scrutiny in recent months in regard to food safety standards.

Norfolk County has posted an analysis of food import statistics gathered by the Government of Canada, on its website at

“We want you to know where your food comes from, but we discovered some astonishing trends,” said Clark Hoskin, Manager of Tourism & Economic Development. “Some of these countries have less stringent food safety standards than Canada, but imports from these nations continue to balloon.”

A summary of the trends and a link to more data is located at NorfolkCounty’s website at

Asparagus imports rose 18%. Norfolk produces 54% of Ontario’s asparagus crop. Strawberry imports jumped 22%. Norfolk produces 12% of Ontario’s strawberries. Pickle imports, mainly from India and Mexico, increased 71%, squeezing Norfolk cucumber growers out of the market. Raspberry imports ballooned by 102% in two years.

The value of imports of cigarettes skyrocketed six-fold last year, to $162 million. Norfolk County tobacco growers produced 58% of the Ontario tobacco crop in 2006, but they are now facing the demise of tobacco growing, due to the drop in world prices and other factors. While Canadian farmers plant less tobacco, cigarette companies merely import more from developing nations.

Norfolk County is working closely with dozens of its farmers to promote increased consumption of local farm products. For a list of Norfolk County farms and foods, visit A map featuring local farms can also be requested from Norfolk County by calling 1-800-699-9038 or (519) 426-9497.