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The “Food Miles” Debate

Posted by admin on March 13th, 2007

IPC’s Charlotte Hebebrand and James Lee have contributed the following post on the pros and cons of “food miles.” 

The “Food Miles” argument is gaining traction. So far, it has sprung up mostly in the UK, but it is finding resonance in other European countries, and groups in the US are also beginning to find it attractive. The UK discussion has mostly focused on food imports from New Zealand, but horticultural imports from Kenya have now also come under scrutiny.

The UK supermarket chain Tesco announced in January that it would reduce the amount of food flown into its stores, and that it would place an airplane on packaging of food and flowers flown into the UK to indicate the food miles that such products have traveled. This announcement was criticized, leading the company to backtrack, and announce that it would undertake further study of this issue. It remains to be seen whether fixation on the environmental costs of the transport of food products will be a passing phenomenon. Along with other movements to buy local food so as to support local farmers and (allegedly) ensure food security in an era of international terrorism and health threats, it could do great damage to the economies of countries such as Kenya, which have successfully moved into production of high value horticultural goods for the export market.

Critics of the food miles argument are rightly calling for more in-depth investigations into a food product’s total carbon yield (production, processing, packaging, storage, transportation). If methods to calculate total carbon yield and agreement over such methods can be found, the idea of “carbon neutral meals” may take hold, which could actually benefit Kenyan exports. This, however, if it can in fact be done, is a much more sophisticated and complex concept for a consumer (or a supermarket interested in appealing to consumers) to grasp.

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Reader Comments

Food that’s travelled thousands of miles unnecessary of course is a ridiculous idea! Common sense says stop it and the environment benefits. More complex issues of Africans growing beans for export is also in principle rather unethical when Kenyans don’t eat beans themselves and many live below the poverty line. For whose benefit did global movement of food ever exist for anyway?

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