Could Eating/Buying Local Be Bad For The Planet?

Here’s a good look at the concept of “food miles.” It’s a good read.

Some additional links to earlier posts below.

Eating local hurts the planet – Are farmers markets bad? Two scientists argue “food miles,” the distance from farm to plate, is a worthless measure.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that food miles can only be taken at face value in the case of identical items produced simultaneously in the exact same physical conditions but in different locations — in other words, if everything else is equal, which is obviously never the case in the real world.

The fact that retailers are able to sell profitably food items that have traveled long distances clearly indicates that they can be produced more economically elsewhere for reasons that range from better growing conditions to cheaper labor costs. If this were not the case, transportation costs would act as an insurmountable trade barrier.

Tomato production is but one instance of a much larger phenomenon. As American researchers have documented, in their country the “food miles” segment (from producer to retailer) contributes only about 4 percent of total emissions related to what Americans take home in their grocery bags, while 83 percent of households’ carbon dioxide footprint for food consumption can be traced back to the production stages. Again, these credible LCA studies document the common-sensical notion that producing food requires a lot more energy than moving it around. This is especially the case for food that requires significant heating and/or cold protection technologies when the same items can be produced elsewhere in much more favorable climates.

In the worst-case scenario, a U.K. consumer driving six miles to buy Kenyan green beans emits more carbon dioxide per bean than does flying the vegetables from Kenya to the U.K.

Locavore initiatives such as Community Supported Agriculture result in more waste of fresh produce than is the case when people shop at supermarkets. Another misconception promoted by activists is that the absence (or much smaller volume) of packaging material at farmers’ markets has significant environmental benefits, a notion that conveniently ignores the fact that food packaging has the dual advantage of protecting food from microbes and greatly prolonging shelf life. These advantages, in turn, significantly increase the probability of the food being consumed instead of ending in a landfill or incinerator.

Related links:
Buy Local Isn’t Necessarily Good For The Environment
What About Poorer School Districts Elsewhere?
Does “Buy Local” Really Do What You Think?
More on the Absurdity of “Localization”
Never Wonder About “Buy Local” Again
Going Locavore, Reasons To Do It
Buy Local To Save The World?
When And Where Should I “Buy Local?”
Austin Grocery Store Is A “Sustainable” Dream