the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

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Buy non-local

A bugbear of mine is the push for 'local produce'. Reducing the environment impact of food to how many miles it's travelled is an oversimplification which ignores all sorts of related costs and externalities. And I've often argued that it's just stealth protectionism. Why first-world farmers are any different to abacus and 8-track manufacturers, I don't really know.

Reason: The Food Miles Mistake

So just how much carbon dioxide is emitted by transporting food from farm to fork? Desrochers and Shimizu cite a comprehensive study done by the United Kingdom's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) which reported that 82 percent of food miles were generated within the U.K. Consumer shopping trips accounted for 48 percent and trucking for 31 percent of British food miles. Air freight amounted to less than 1 percent of food miles. In total, food transportation accounted for only 1.8 percent of Britain's carbon dioxide emissions.


Local food production does not always produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the 2005 DEFRA study found that British tomato growers emit 2.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of tomatoes grown compared to 0.6 tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of Spanish tomatoes. The difference is British tomatoes are produced in heated greenhouses. Another study found that cold storage of British apples produced more carbon dioxide than shipping New Zealand apples by sea to London. In addition, U.K. dairy farmers use twice as much energy to produce a metric ton of milk solids than do New Zealand farmers. Other researchers have determined that Kenyan cut rose growers emit 6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 12,000 roses compared to the 35 tons of carbon dioxide emitted by their Dutch competitors. Kenyan roses grow in sunny fields whereas Dutch roses grow in heated greenhouses.

Another reason why I believe the only sensible way to deal with global warming is for emissions and pollution costs to be adequately factored into transport and energy prices. That way what's best for the planet is fairly reflected in the price at the till, and if you choose a more expensive option, you know you're paying to offset your footprint.

In the meantime, do the planet and people who really need it a favour and buy from poor farmers in Africa.

{2008.11.13 - 15:06}


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