Local food 'greener than organic'
- Local food 'greener than organic'
Local food is usually more "green" than organic food, according to a
report published in the journal Food Policy.
The authors say organic farming is also valuable, but people can help
the environment even more by buying food from within a 20km (12-mile)
They calculate that moving food long distances can cause more harm
than non-organic farming methods.
Furthermore, "road miles" account for proportionately more
environmental damage than "air miles", they claim.
Therefore, the researchers' message to consumers is this: it is not
good enough to buy food from within the UK - it is better if it comes
from within your area, too.
A big city like London could be provided with a lot more seasonal
vegetables from local farms Co-author Professor Tim Lang
However, they admit that consumers are prevented from "doing the
right thing" because of inadequate labelling.
"The most political act we do on a daily basis is to eat, as our
actions affect farms, landscapes and food businesses," said co-author
Professor Jules Pretty, from the University of Essex, UK.
"Food miles are more significant than we previously thought, and much
now needs to be done to encourage local production and consumption of
Professor Pretty and his colleague Tim Lang, from City University,
UK, painstakingly estimated the environmental price tag on each stage
of the food production process.
That price might reflect, for example, the clean-up costs following
pollution, or the loss of profits caused by erosion damage.
"The price of food is disguising externalised costs - damage to the
environment, damage to climate, damage to infrastructure and the cost
of transporting food on roads," Professor Lang told the BBC News
The authors calculated that if all foods were sourced from within
20km of where they were consumed, environmental and congestion costs
would fall from more than £2.3bn to under £230m - an "environmental
saving" of £2.1bn annually.
They pointed out that organic methods can also make an important
contribution. If all farms in the UK were to turn organic, then the
country would save £1.1bn of environmental costs each year.
Consumers can save a further £100m in environmental costs, the
authors claim, if they cycle, walk or catch the bus to the shops
rather than drive.
Each week, the average person clocks up 93p worth of environmental
costs, the report concludes.
These costs should be addressed by the government, companies and
consumers, the authors believe.
"It is going to need some sophisticated policy solutions," Professor
Pretty said. "You could say we should internalise those costs in
prices, so that it affects people's behaviour. That might be
economically efficient but it lacks on the social justice side
because it will affect rich people much less."
Instead, the authors are advocating a softer approach. Consumers
should make ethical choices about the food that they buy, and
supermarkets should be open with customers about where their food is
At the moment, as every UK consumer will know, it is impossible to
tell whether your carrot has come from Devon or Scotland.
"In the short term, our paper adds to consumer frustration,"
Professor Lang concedes. "The problem is we don't get the
information. Food labels don't tell you the sort of information you
really need to know if you want to do the right thing by the
Since supermarkets do know exactly where their food is coming from,
Professor Lang believes they have a duty to inform their customers.
Eventually, the authors hope, the food production infrastructure
within Britain will be transformed.
"We think farming methods will change - farming will undergo a re-
birth, if you like," said Professor Lang.
"A big city like London could be provided with a lot more seasonal
vegetables from local farms - because at the moment, the shape of the
supply chain is all wrong from the point of view of food, environment
and public health."
My Welsh/Canadian grandfather grew most of our food and it tasted
wonderful. Store-bought food lacks the flavours of fresh. One day I
watched asparagus being harvested about 20 miles from my home. The
cut spears lay on a tarp, under the hot sun for almost an hour before
being placed on a truck and hauled off to market. Even locally grown
food may be poorly handled. So like my grandfather, I try to grow as
much at home that I can. I agree with the gentleman from San Diego.
Americans have much to relearn about food.
The article states: "At the moment, as every UK consumer will know,
it is impossible to tell whether your carrot has come from Devon or
Scotland." but even if we did know, this isn't the whole story. Food
is moved from British suppliers to centralised supermarket depots,
then back to the branches, so even if something appears to be local,
then it may in fact have travelled up and down the country to reach
you. There's a whole section on this in Felicity Lawrence's excellent
book "Not on the label". The only real way to ensure you're eating
local food is use farmers' markets and local shops, or grow it
yourself! I think we should be lobbying the supermarkets hard on this
Margot Maynard, London, UK
I know of just two "farmer's markets" available in Riverside - one
only part of the year; even those have produce from further away than
12 miles. I usually shop at a supermarket where the majority of the
fresh food is grown in Southern CA [at least]. I know of no way to
ensure that the foods I eat are grown within 12 miles of my home -
short of raising some veggies myself. I would like to, however it is
not possible as it would be too time consuming.
J P, Riverside, CA USA
Apart from the road miles, food grown locally is most suitable for
the people living in that climate Meena Appnender, Hyderabad, India
I agree. Apart from the road miles, food grown locally is most
suitable for the people living in that climate. It is likely that all
the nutrients are likely to be found in various forms in the locally
Meena Appnender, Hyderabad, India
"The most political act we do on a daily basis is to eat". I couldn't
agree more. The country I live in may be democratic, but above all,
it is capitalist. The only real power we have these days is the power
of the penny... each cent spent is a clear vote to change or maintain
the status quo. The only way to change our markets is to support
those products that attempt to be environmentally sound and humane to
animals. Thanks for running this piece, I only wish the media in my
country would follow suit.
Owen, San Diego, USA
I have always thought that the definition of organic should include
food miles. There is not a lot of point in eating good food if there
is a greater impact on the planet by getting it on your plate. How we
suffer from narrow definitions. We need a more holistic view of all
the issues in food quality and production/transport. Keep up the good
Maurice Hopper, Exeter
We need to re-educate ourselves to eat seasonally, and to encourage
local producers Caroline Deamer, Lincoln, UK
I agree wholeheartedly, and it's heartening to have this 'instinct'
confirmed through scientific analysis. We need to re-educate
ourselves to eat seasonally, and to encourage local producers.
However, there are seemingly some disincentives for doing this, in
the economic model currently adopted, with supermarkets dominating
the food supply chain. Hopefully (although this is a somewhat vain
hope) consumers and the government might actually take notice now
that there is a financial perspective on this...but I doubt it
Caroline Deamer, Lincoln, UK
This idea seems a little ridiculous, what if there are no farms
within 12 miles of your house, and am I supposed to live on Rhubarb
as this is the main thing grown locally to me!
Paul Hartshorne, Leeds
Yes, I agree very much. Progress has taken us away from some very
good "habits", how does "progress" take us back? Thanks for the
Cyd Hanns, Barrow, Alaska
I would love to see a follow up article about how existing homes
could be retrofitted with a relatively low cost solarium/greenhouse
that could help to passively solar heat the home while producing
vegetables, herbs etc year round. This could be used by people who
were already planning to renovate their home. Of course it would be
much easier to accomplish this in new construction of homes and even
large buildings with flats. Homeowners, like farmers, should be given
the economic incentive/reward for making their homes more
environmentally friendly! The trend to working at home should also be
rewarded as it cuts down on traffic on the road, reduces pollution,
and has other positive benefits. I think your scheme in the UK to
reward farmers for making their lands more wildlife friendly
is "brilliant" as you might say! Tom Lang, Lions Bay, Canada
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/03/02 20:04:44 GMT
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