Food Miles – a reality check

by Dilhan

The environment and climate change, together with poverty and the related malnutrition, are without a doubt the most urgent and substantial challenges that our 21st Century civilization must face. Yet we have failed so far in crystallizing a consensus and a co-ordinated approach to these issues. Until we do so, and when that happens it will probably not be at the instigation of our political ‘leaders’ but citizens’ groups, the solutions range from the farcical to the purely opportunistic.

The Weekend FT offers a healthy dose of common sense on the concept of food miles. Noble in thought, and founded undoubtedly on sound principles, but beyond the principle, the brilliantly crafted words of the Editor of the FT apply:

This is not to dismiss the threat of climate change, but to recognise the facts: air-freighted food is a surprisingly modest contributor to the problem. Kenyan beans are not flown first class; they are packed in far more tightly than the food that travels from supermarket to kitchen in the capacious boot of a family car.

And that leads to the point of this post. Farmers’ Markets and the like are great. Supporting local farmers in England, the US and elsewhere is logical, natural and essential. However, no-one should play on the guilt of well meaning consumers to distort concepts like carbon footprint in this way. As the FT concludes,

A far better policy on climate change is a tax or trading scheme that sets a credible international price for carbon. That would discourage other polluters long before air-freight farming, and thank goodness: the livelihoods of many poor farmers depend on the trade.

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