Imported food could be greener than local, says DEFRA

And pigs fly, says me...

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

One can but wonder as to whether those in government departments and parliament actually live in the same universe than do we. It has been obvious for a very long time that they are not on the same planet as us mere mortals.

Imported food from Brazil and New Zealand, a new a DEFRA-funded study has claimed, could have less impact on the environment than food produced in the UK.

Yeah, right! And rain flows upwards to the sky. I guess you can make anything fit.

Researchers from the Cranfield University claim they found that Spanish strawberries and tomatoes and lamb from New Zealand could be more environmentally-friendly than the same food produced in Britain.

The £161,000, two-year Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Food Commodities report suggests the "food miles" argument, which advocated locally-produced food over produce transported over great distances, is often flawed.

The study compared factors such as energy use, global warming potential, pesticides use and land requirement of seven foods, including potatoes, beef, lamb and strawberries.

It claims that British-grown strawberries and tomatoes are worse for the environment than are Spanish varieties because so much energy is needed to heat greenhouses here that there is a trade-off between the amount of energy needed to transport them to the UK.

While the production systems used by Brazilian and British poultry farmers were largely similar, the report says 25% less energy was used in producing Brazilian poultry meat.

“A main feed, soya, has much lower transport burdens in Brazil, Brazilian poultry houses are essentially naturally ventilated and structures are simpler so that the housing burdens are smaller,” it says.

So, do we have to feed them on soya? No, should the answer be here. And why does poutlry have to be in sheds? Time to rethink things, methinks.

The study, which was published last year but not made public by DEFRA, also says that lamb from New Zealand was more sustainable than British-produced lamb if transport was taken out of the equation.

Please note: it says... IF TRANSPORT WAS TAKEN OUT OF THE EQUATION. But transport from New Zealand to Britain often is by air and that is costly and must be part of the equation. Even frozen transport by sea has a huge environmental footprint.

“The global-warming potential arising from production of tomatoes and strawberries in Spain, poultry in Brazil and lamb in New Zealand remained less than from those foods produced in the UK, despite the greenhouse gas emissions that took place during transport,” the report says.

Unless consumers radically changed their lifestyles by becoming vegan or eating more seasonal foods, it may be better to import staple foods and avoid the emissions caused by refrigerating British produce for long periods, it adds.

Patrick Holden, Soil Association director, urged consumers not to let the report put them off from buying locally-produced food.

“People shouldn’t conclude that the food miles or distance food travels isn't an issue,” he said. “Consumers need to recognize it makes sense to buy staple foods which are in season and from as close as possible to where they live.

“We can’t eliminate international trade and nor would we want to, but let’s not use one or two examples to jettison the proximity principle.

“'Food miles’ was a shorthand to explain the need to localize our food sourcing and this report shouldn’t be used to undermine the need to re-localize our food systems.”

I can but agree with Patrick Holden of the Soil Association in his assessment above and we must come to understand too, as consumers, that we should concentrate on food in season and out of season use canned, whether bought canned in stores or canned at home in jars.

As said previously, statements like this in reports commissioned by British government agencies and then kept secret can but make one wonder where those people actually live.

How many strawberries in Britain are, in fact, grown in greenhouses? If they are and a lot of energy is being used for heating them then maybe the greenhouses need redesigning to use mostly the heat of the sun – yes, even in colder times – instead of artificial heat. In addition to that it is time that we came to understand that we cannot, as consumers, expect fresh fruit when it is out of season, such as fresh strawberries in, say, February.

Local food is better than imported food and I stand by that statement for it makes sense. Also, other countries have far less strict a regime when it comes to what is being fed to animals or what is being sprayed onto crops.

American beef, for instance, is mostly full of hormones and antibiotics and the animals stand often knee deep in their own filth in those feed lots. Not from whence I would want my steak. Thanks.

Reading between the lines of the comments from this report one can but wonder which food company has been paying backhanders to the researchers for it sure would appear as if they are in someone's pocket.

Buy local, eat local, and especially eat in season.

© 2009