Thursday, November 13, 2008

Think local, buy global

I work next door to a Whole Foods, so the issue of "food miles" comes up a lot.

However, a recent study from Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu called "Yes, We Have no Bananas" synthesizes a good deal of research showing that the food miles concept is severly lacking:
"The most problematic aspect of the food-miles perspective is that it ignores productivity differentials between geographical locations. In other words, activists assume that producing a given food item requires the same amount of inputs independently of where and how it is produced. In this context, the distance traveled between producers and consumers, along with the mode of transportation used, become the only determinants of a food’s environmental impact. But any realistic assessment must reflect both transport to final consumers and the total energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with production."
The data on this issue are striking. The authors cite several studies showing that 83% of CO2 emissions came from the production of food, while only 4% came from the transportation from the producers to the retailer (the piece on which activists tend to focus).

Ronald Bailey, writing in Reason Magazine, explains the implications:
"Food miles advocates fail to grasp the simple idea that food should be grown where it is most economically advantageous to do so. Relevant advantages consist of various combinations of soil, climate, labor, capital, and other factors. It is possible to grow bananas in Iceland, but Costa Rica really has the better climate for that activity. Transporting food is just one relatively small cost of providing modern consumers with their daily bread, meat, cheese, and veggies. Desrochers and Shimizu argue that concentrating agricultural production in the most favorable regions is the best way to minimize human impacts on the environment."
One of the best ways to do this is to lift the huge subsidies that the US and Europe dole out to their agricultural lobbies. This would lead to more food being grown in advantageous climates, and has the added benefit of being an economic boon to the developing world. Lifting the subsidies would be good for the environment, good for the worlds poor, and would free up $300 billion in US government budget. What's not to like?

No comments: