Sunday, March 06, 2005

Local is greener than organic

The BBC picked up on a new research study, Farm costs and food miles: An assessment of the full cost of the UK weekly food basket in the journal Food Policy that found food grown within a 12 mile radius to be more economically and environmentally sustainable than non-local organic food. Speaking in these quantified terms, I'm curious what the break-even point for organic vs. local would be?

Responses from the blogosphere: WorldChanging reminds us that ideally we'd have access to organic local produce, Cascadia Scorecard distinguishes between personal health and global environment health, and Sustainablog muses on the mixed bag that is Whole Foods.

My two cents: Though it's not always the case, food grown on small farms with the intention of being consumed locally tends to be produced by relatively green means. Fewer pesticides and preservatives are needed since there is no intention of shipping it afar. Many small producers can't afford organic certification. Others may be in transition to organic standards (or are interested in learning more about them) and still need financial support to be able to make the leap. Organic standards also aren't right for every farm and not every organic farm is a model of environmental ethics. The best way to know how sustainable your food is still through talking to your farmer or visiting the farm. And if your local farmer isn't certified organic, ask why. You'll be constructively advocating for sustainable growing practices and learn more about the history of your food in the process.

Depressingly, the UK study ends:
However, localisation of food systems, such as we point to here, would require changes in the behaviour of actors and businesses across the whole supply chain, with localised geographic areas needing different patterns of land use to supply local markets and consumers. Some of these changes may lead to trade-offs and losses in overall system sustainability, or possibly losses in jobs in the freight or input supply industries. In addition, proximity alone may not be a good measure of sustainability, as a long journey on water has a lower impact than a shorter one by road. At the same time, though, globalising trends in food systems are likely to continue, making localisation harder and less likely to occur, despite the net economic benefits.
But on a brighter note, one of the study's authors advocates in the BBC article for a subject we've touch on in recent weeks, origin labeling:
Since supermarkets do know exactly where their food is coming from... they have a duty to inform their customers.
Amen. Seems Brits really loved their local this past week.

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