I lived for a while in a village which was split in half by a stream. On entering the village pub we were asked if we were local. We then had to clarify which side of the stream we were on and luckily I was from the acceptable side! I always think of this when the issue of 'local' as a product claim is raised because for those villagers which side of the stream you lived mattered!
National and regional pride varies between consumers and a simple distance ruling such as a 30 mile radius may not satisfy some if that puts you between two counties such as Yorkshire and Lancashire.
The prevalence of 'local food' claims in the market was noted at the June Food Standards Agency (FSA) board meeting and concern flagged about possible unscrupulous practices. As retailers move to promoting local foods more and we see more on-pack claims for origin there is clearly a need for clarity.
The FSA undertook a consumer survey last year including assessment of the claim 'local'. The main conclusion from the report was that consumers have different interpretations of what the term meant: within a 10 mile radius (40%); within the same county (20%); from a number of neighbouring counties (20%) or from a region (20%).
The National Farmers' Retail & Markets Association provides two criteria for 'local' in the context of farmers markets, either as a radius with 30 miles as the ideal or up to 50 miles for larger cities and coastal or remote towns and villages. The alternative view is the definition of local as a county boundary or other geographic boundary such as a national park that is similar in size to the radius option.
So what is the best advice I can offer you? Make sure that you are clear about your point of reference if you promote food as local because scrutiny can be expected!
Kath Veal is business manager, Regulatory and Technical Consultancy Services at Leatherhead Food International