Through plenty of media attention, many of you have probably heard about how expensive food is in the north, and how Canada needs to look at the issue of food security as a priority when it comes to social and economic planning. I have also spoken about it here on the blog in my post, Feeding the North. It is an important issue that has very real and serious consequences right here in Canada.
Recently, I went to the stores here in town and was browsing through some of the sale items. Upon closer inspection, these are items that have passed their "best before" date and were on their way out the door. Amazingly, I found things that have been expired anywhere from weeks to months, and even one item that had expired in early 2012. Yet, the stores continue to sell the items and people buy them because they are more affordable.
Why is this an ok thing? How is it safe for consumption if it is past the "best before" date? Stores in the south can't get away with blatantly selling expired items, so why is it ok in the north? I decided to find out...by reaching out to the sources directly.
I went on an email campaign and I contacted the major brands that are being sold here: McCain, Kraft, Pillsbury, Kellogg, General Mills, Mars, and Nestle. They all received this email:
I was wondering if you have the opportunity to visit all of your distributors across Canada and whether you have a policy about how to fairly price your products and what the protocol is to stop selling expired items. We live in a small community in Nunavut and after moving from Ontario (and seeing the prices down there), we were shocked to see items being sold at 3-5x the cost in the south. There aren't many choices to shop here; we either go to the one or two stores in town, or order online (where we have to pay for freight on top of items) and we are a family who finds ourselves unable to enjoy your products since they are so expensive. We wish we could indulge, but the prices are so unaffordable we tend to reach for other brands - not always the most healthy of choices, but the most economical for our situation. We are respectfully wondering if you have a policy about pricing your products so they are affordable to all consumers?
Additionally, the stores here in town routinely sell expired items to the public at a reduced cost. I assume that the dates are on your food items for a health reason and am concerned that by allowing your distributors to sell these items past expiration, it will result in health and safety consequences. What do you do to ensure that your items are pulled off the shelves and are not sold past the date printed?
Any insight you can provide towards these concerns would be most appreciated.
Of all the correspondence I sent, I surprisingly received a response from every company - but unfortunately, all had the same generic answer: they are sorry I feel that the prices are higher in the north, but the pricing is left up to the distributors and not the supplier. Nestle even came back and said they wanted me to call and to talk to them in person about it, but when I did, I received the same answer. Not one company touched on what they're going to do about selling products past the dates on the items, but did say that they do not recommend consumption of things past the date on the package.
Translation: no company is going to care as long as the products are still being bought.
How can food security not be a priority in Canada when our own communities and our own citizens are having to buy food that is barely safe for consumption? If we are one of the most progressive countries in the world, is this really the image and the message we want to share with the people who live here? The country that can spend millions of dollars to fly panda bears here for a zoo can't look at their own land and spend the money here at home to feed its own people? Come on, now.
It is clear that even with the media attention over the past year and a bit, it isn't enough to make a significant change yet.
So what else can be done? What can you do?
Make some noise. Speak up. Do. Something! The louder our voices are to bring attention to these companies, the more they will listen. Feel like you're just one person and wonder what difference you can make? Remember that every ocean started with one drop of water. If we all continue to let this happen without consequence, why would/should these companies stop what's currently working perfectly fine for them? Not sure what to say? Feel free to copy my email and send it yourself. Forward it to your friends and get them to send it as well. Whatever it is you decide to do, raise awareness to the cause. The more we stand up against this, the stronger the message will be.
This is my Canada, and food insecurity is NOT ok.