WASHINGTON – The No. 2 official at the U.S. Agriculture Department got a real-life lesson in the loose definition of the trendiest word in groceries: “local.”
Walking into her neighborhood grocery store in Washington, D.C., Kathleen Merrigan recently saw a beautiful display of plump strawberries and a sign that said they were local produce. But the package said they were grown in California, well over 2,000 miles away.
The popularity of locally grown food – which many assume means the food is fresher, has fewer chemicals and comes from smaller, less corporate farms – has led to an explosion in the use of the word “local” in food marketing. It’s the latest big thing after “organic,” another subject of labeling controversy.
But what does local mean? Sellers capitalizing on the trend occasionally try to fudge the largely unregulated term. Some grocery stores may define local as within a large group of states, while consumers might think it means right in their hometown.