Driving food home can cost the Earth
10 years ago
. Driving food home can cost the Earth - Breaking News | Print | New Scientist 19:00 02 March 2005 NewScientist.com news service Andy Coghlan http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn7092 Buying home-grown produce instead of exotic imports will not help save the planet if it must then be driven home. That is the message for consumers from a comprehensive analysis of the hidden environmental and economic costs of food in the UK. The report could have implications for all industrialised nations with similar patterns of food production and distribution. "Go local is the key, and you create a benefit by not driving," says Jules Pretty of the University of Essex in Colchester, UK, who led the study. It concluded that shuttling food around by road and rail within the country imposes a far greater environmental burden than so called "air-miles" widely touted by green campaigners as the greatest menace. Using data from previous studies, Pretty and his colleagues estimated the hidden economic cost of environmental damage caused by a number of factors, including car transport, farm pollution and government subsidies. These produce hidden impacts, such as that of exhaust pollution on respiratory health and the capacity of vehicle emissions to accelerate global warming. Repairing this damage is not factored into the price of food, and so is a "hidden" cost. Combining these estimates with published data on national food consumption patterns and freight distribution, Pretty and his colleagues worked out that in total, hidden costs would add a further 11.8% to the price of the average UK food basket, and by far the biggest contribution to this comes from transport within the UK. Taking food from farm to shop accounts for 29% of the hidden costs, and taking it home 16%. The other big contributions come from government subsidies (36%) and the unmet costs of environmental damage on farms, such as cleaning up pollution or replanting hedgerows (19%). But the air- and ship-miles contribution is tiny, less than 0.1%, the study suggests. Of the two million tonnes of produce imported into the UK by air each year, just 110,000 tonnes are fruit, vegetables and meat, says Pretty. And this compares with a massive 1.58 billion tonnes of food transported by road internally, much of it shuttled between geographically distant distribution hubs and processing plants by farmers and retailers. Pretty doubts whether this pattern of distribution is likely to change to one that is more locally focused unless there is a shock to the system, such as a huge increase in oil prices. "It all works within the context of transport being artificially cheap," he says. So for now, says Pretty, the only hope is for consumers to cut the amount of car journeys, but he accepts that only the environmental hard core are likely to respond to the call. And if walking, cycling or public transport is out, the next best option is to order by van. "One trip going to 20 houses is better than each house making a return trip to the supermarket," he says. "The paper shows that more needs to be done to support local food systems and networks, and the rule of thumb is to source within 30 miles (50 kilometres)," says Ben Reynolds of Sustain, a UK-based alliance lobbying for more sustainable food and agriculture. The British Retail Consortium, which represents the country's supermarket chains and retailers, says it would "welcome the opportunity to introduce further transport efficiencies". Journal reference: Food Policy (vol 30, p 1)
10 years ago
it all goes w/ "think globally, act locally" & v.v. Only local people know & understand the needs & "quirks" of their localities. On the other hand, it's good to have a global grasp of economics, social needs, etc...to overlap & get to more objective solutions.
10 years ago
I use my handy dandy bike rack for "driving" my food home :)