Organic Consumers Association


Previous Page

Click here to print this page

Make a Donation!


Organic & Local Key to Food Sustainability

Local food 'greener than organic'

Local food is usually more "green" than organic food, according to a report
published in Food Policy journal.

The authors say people can help protect the environment by buying food
produced within a 20km radius.

They claim British consumers are not fully aware of the severe damage done
to the environment by driving food long distances around the UK.

Proportionately, "road miles" account for more environmental damage than
"air miles", the authors claim.

Therefore the message to consumers is this: It is not good enough to buy
food from within the UK - it must come from within your area.

A big city like London could be provided with a lot more seasonal
vegetables from local farms
Co-author Professor Tim Lang
However, the authors admit that consumers are prevented from "doing the
right thing" because of inadequate labelling.

"The most political act we do on a daily basis is to eat, as our actions
affect farms, landscapes and food businesses," said co-author Professor
Jules Pretty from the University of Essex, UK.

"Food miles are more significant than we previously thought, and much now
needs to be done to encourage local production and consumption of food."

Clean-up costs

Professor Pretty and his colleague Tim Lang, from City University, UK,
painstakingly estimated the environmental "price tag" on each stage of the
food production process.

That price might reflect, for example, the clean-up costs following
pollution, or the loss of profits caused by erosion damage.

"The price of food is disguising externalised costs - damage to the
environment, damage to climate, damage to infrastructure and the cost of
transporting food on roads," Professor Lang told the BBC News website.

The authors calculated that if all foods were sourced from within 20km of
where it is was consumed, environmental and congestion costs would fall from
more than £2.3bn to under £230m - an "environmental saving" of £2.1bn

They pointed out that organic methods can also make an important
contribution. If all farms in the UK were to turn organic, then the country
would save £1.1bn of environmental costs each year.

Consumers can save a further £100m in environmental costs, the authors
claim, if they cycle, walk or catch the bus to the shops rather than drive.

Each week the average person clocks up 93p worth of environmental costs,
the report concludes.

These costs should be addressed by the government, companies and consumers,
the authors believe.

Sophisticated policy

"It is going to need some sophisticated policy solutions," Professor Pretty
said. "You could say we should internalise those costs in prices, so that it
effects people's behaviour. That might be economically efficient but it
lacks on the social justice side because it will affect rich people much

Instead, the authors are advocating a softer approach. Consumers should
make ethical choices about the food that they buy, and supermarkets should
be open with customers about where their food is coming from.

At the moment, as every UK consumer will know, it is impossible to tell
whether your carrot has come from Devon or Scotland.

"In the short term our paper adds to consumer frustration," Professor Lang
concedes. "The problem is we don't get the information. Food labels don't
tell you the sort of information you really need to know if you want to do
the right thing by the environment."

Since supermarkets do know exactly where their food is coming from,
Professor Lang believes they have a duty to inform their customers.

Eventually, the authors hope, the food production infrastructure within
Britain will be transformed.

"We think farming methods will change - farming will undergo a re-birth, if
you like," said Professor Lang.

"A big city like London could be provided with a lot more seasonal
vegetables from local farms. Because at the moment, the shape of the supply
chain is all wrong from the point of view of food, environment and public

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/03/02 20:04:44 GMT