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[greenyes] Food Policies - Costs of Long Distance Shipping v. Locally Grown



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Buy local produce and save the world: why food costs £4bn more than we think
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
03 March 2005
Every major supermarket spends millions of pounds a day making sure their
warehouse-sized stores are brimming with products ranging from Kenyan
mangetout to Scottish potatoes.

But the true costs of producing and transporting food to and from the
supermarket shelf are far greater than any checkout receipt suggests. A
study that tries for the first time to calculate the real size of our food
bill has found we are indirectly spending billions of pounds a year extra on
food without realising it.

Government statistics show each person in Britain spends an average of
£24.79 a week on food. But if the hidden costs of transport and the impact
on the environment were included, this bill would rise by 12 per cent, the
study found.

Professor Jules Pretty, of Essex University, and Professor Tim Lang, of City
University, in London, said another way of looking at the problem was to
assess the national savings that could be made if everything was done
differently.

They reckoned more than £4bn a year could be saved if farmers grew
organically, farming subsidies were abolished and if consumers shopped for
local produce, preferably on their bikes. The issue centres on the concept
of "food miles" which refers to the distance travelled by produce from farm
to fork.

The scientists tried to assess the added expense of bringing food from
around the UK and the wider world to the typical British dinner table. By
analysing foodstuffs, farming methods and transport policies, professors
Pretty and Lang found that if all of our food came from within 20km (12.4
miles) of where we live we could save £2.1bn a year in environmental and
congestion costs.

They also found that if shopping by car was replaced by bus, bicycle or
walking, these savings would amount to a further £1.1bn. And if all farms in
Britain were to follow organic principles, the costs to the environment
would fall from £1.5bn a year to less than £400m, a further saving of
£1.1bn. "Food miles are more important than we thought and buying local is
more important than buying green," Professor Pretty said at the Science
Media Centre in London. "It's better to buy a local lettuce than an organic
one from the other side of Europe."

The study, in the journal Food Policy, found 28 per cent of all freight on
the roads of Britain is agricultural produce. Not only is more food being
transported by road - up by 23 per cent in 20 years - but it is being
carried 65 per cent further than it was in the 1980s.

In effect, Professor Pretty said, Britons are paying three times for their
food: once at the supermarket till, twice in costs to the environment and
the third time in farming subsidies.

The study found the "air mile" costs of importing food from abroad were
trivial compared with the huge costs of transporting home-produced food
around the country. "The most political act we do on a daily basis is to
eat, because our actions affect farms, landscapes and food businesses,"
Professor Pretty said. "Food miles are much more significant than we
thought, and much needs to be done to encourage local production and
consumption of food."

Professor Lang said he invented the concept of food miles 15 years ago to
articulate the problem of hidden costs of agricultural production. "How far
food travels is becoming more important for policy makers and consumers
alike," he said. "For example, fruits and vegetables travelling
long-distance or short-distance may deliver similar nutrition or look the
same, but environmentally they are poles apart."

One way to tackle the problem would be to force supermarkets to label food
with the distance it has travelled. "Supermarkets should put food miles on
products," Professor Lang added. "They have invested billions in a
hyper-efficient, just-in-time system of food distribution, and actually,
it's just cuckoo. This is an area where consumers are suffering from an
information deficit."

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