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


While the study referenced in this article is on food in the UK, the same concept will apply to most of the developed world, although some regions have an advantage with more agricultural opportunities.

The article does not mention future cost trends, but as we pass peak oil production (which oil industry experts say is happening now or very soon - a huge issue that should be discussed on this list), both the transportation and petrochemical agricultural additive cost variable should continue to increase substantially, as will any energy cost variables associated with food production, such as water pumping, processing, refrigeration, etc. While you may have to pay a lot more for exotic or out of season foods (if they are available at all), this will also further emphasize the need to buy local and organic, and simple economics may drive this trend in the future. Overall (unsubsidized) efficiency should increase out of necessity.

Information is becoming available to make better consumer decisions on food purchases. In the US you may have noticed that in the supermarket fish and shellfish are now labeled according to their country of origin and whether it is farm raised or wild caught. This is part of the "Country of Origin Labeling" law (COOL). You can also buy more environmentally sound seafood by using the Seafood Watch card (print it out here: Implementation of another part of that COOL law that applies to other meats and perishable agricultural commodities (country of origin only) was delayed until September 30, 2006. Some info on pesticide content of produce can be found here:, and some info on other issues can be found here:

Terry S. Brennan
Integrated Waste Management Specialist
California Integrated Waste Management Board
phone (916) 341-6578
fax (916) 319-7474
e-mail tbrennan@no.address

Zero Waste - You make it happen!

-----Original Message-----
From: Peter Anderson [mailto:anderson@no.address]
Sent: Friday, March 04, 2005 8:26 AM
To: GreenYes
Subject: [greenyes] Food Policies - Costs of Long Distance Shipping v. Locally Grown

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Home > News > UK > This Britain

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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