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IPC Urges Closer Examination of Food Miles Argument

Posted by admin on November 17th, 2006

Charlotte Hebebrand, IPC chief executive, writes:

IPC member Tim Groser (New Zealand) brings to our attention the emerging debate on “food miles.” The argument that it is environmentally damaging to ship food products long distances is finding increased resonance with the suspension of the Doha Round among groups who would like to see more food self sufficiency in countries and regions and less reliance on food imports. While this argument at first glance may sound quite rational, there is actually a lot more to this debate than meets the eye.

A recent study, titled “Food Miles–Comparative Energy/Emissions Performance of New Zealand’s Agriculture Industry”, by Lincoln University of New Zealand, points out that it is grossly insufficient to only consider the environmental impact of transporting food. More appropriately, the study suggests, groups truly concerned about the environment, should consider the overall energy used in the production of food and agricultural products rather than just the transport. In that case, they would find that producing and exporting certain products from New Zealand to Europe, for example, is actually a great deal more environmentally friendly than relying on their domestic production in Europe. This is due to the overall greater production efficiency New Zealand enjoys for certain products. For example, New Zealand agricultural production relies much less on fertilizers (which require a large amount of energy to produce and cause significant C02 emissions).

There is therefore a need to consider the food miles arguments with some caution: it is too simplistic to solely point to the energy used in the transportation of food products - one has to consider the overall amount of energy used in their production and transport.

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