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Thread: Thoughts on food miles?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian JNL's avatar
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    Thoughts on food miles?

    We've had some interesting debate here this week about the concept of labelling food and other products according to the distance they've travelled to market.

    This has been prompted by:
    a move by Britain's largest supermarket chain to label goods imported by air [snip]. Supermarket chain Tesco this month unveiled a £500 million ($1439 million) strategy to cut carbon emissions and persuade its customers to buy environmentally friendly products.

    Tesco said it planned to label food with details of its carbon footprint, showing consumers the amount of carbon emitted during the production, transport and consumption of each of the 70,000 different products it sells.
    Full article

    This potentially poses problems for New Zealand exporters since we are so isolated and many of our exports travel a long way to get to the consumer. However, food miles alone aren't the whole picture. Our Prime Minister is involved in the debate and is against the concept of food miles which only take into account the transportation of a product rather than its production. Lincoln University studies had shown lamb produced in New Zealand and shipped to Britain used about a quarter of the energy the British used to produce and freight its own lamb to local supermarkets.

    Do you think labelling with food miles is a good idea? Do you think we'll eventually see all food labelled with it's carbon footprint? Would it influence you as a consumer?

    (Not sure if this belongs in this sub-forum but I'll let the mods decide).

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    As a consumer, I would totally dig it. The organic label is really only a start when it comes to food sustainability.

    What about an index that reflects issues like sustainable irrigation/soil practices?

    This could easily start as a private certification scheme, like organic did. If people started voting with their wallets, a cry would eventually go up for consistent standards on a broader scale.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Wow, this is an interesting thread. Can't say I ever thought about it in this manner. One thing I do like about it is the potential to impact more local markets. I don't mean to say necessarily stores that are locally owned (though that is good too), but stores which sell more locally produced food. Its true that alone this does not guarantee a healthy product, but it does help establish some form of food security and a boost to local economies.

    I can see many companies having serious complications with printing labels, though, as they would have to know where certain batches were going before they even left the factory. And what of products that combine ingredients from multiple locations? How is that measured?
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I have seen signs in the produce aisles of Wal-Mart indicating that the items were grown and harvested in a community nearby.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    I think I heard once that it is more environmentally friendly to buy local (even if conventionally grown) product than organic produce from California. Of course I live in New York so I'm not sure what the tipping point is. As for labelling products I'm not sure it would make much difference, the country of origin is already listed and is not a detterent to the vast majority of people. Wegmans, a prominent food retailer in the NY/PA/VA/MD markets is always making a big deal how they buy their produce (well some of it and only during the summer) from local farmers. Of course they store brand products seem to becoming more and more from Canada, but thats another discussion.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    Rats, I was feeling all green while sitting here nibbling organic grapes... fresh ones... in December... from Chile...

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Random Traffic Guy View post
    Rats, I was feeling all green while sitting here nibbling organic grapes... fresh ones... in December... from Chile...
    Oh, yeah, that reminds me, fair labor labeling would be great. Remember the farmworker grape boycott?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    With the move in many aspects of society now about reducing your carbon footprint I see that it would be informative to know where your food is coming from and how it got there. However, even as your post stated, JNL, the lamb in NZ uses less energy than locally grown lamb in England even though it's flown kind of makes that point moot. If there was a way to calculate the amount of carbon used in shipping accurately then I would be interested in seeing that, I'm sure it could make the decision to buy local grown foods and items much more attractive.
    @GigCityPlanner

  9. #9
    Cyburbian JNL's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    However, even as your post stated, JNL, the lamb in NZ uses less energy than locally grown lamb in England even though it's flown kind of makes that point moot.
    Yes I think it's important that people realise that 'food miles' are just part of the picture - only one aspect of the carbon footprint. You could potentially label food with a lot of different things to appeal to the consumer's conscience - whether it's local, organic, produced with fair labour, produced with sustainable irrigation etc etc.... where do you stop?

    I think it's an interesting new trend, but currently it's difficult to label accurately and fairly with all the relevant information consumers may be interested in.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian permaplanjuneau's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Future Planning Diva View post
    Oh, yeah, that reminds me, fair labor labeling would be great. Remember the farmworker grape boycott?
    Our biggest local coffee roaster labels their products (as appropriate for the batch) as Fair Trade, Shade Grown, and/or Organic. Since all the coffee beans are coming from tropical countries, and we're in Alaska, the carbon footprint is still disproportionately large, of course.

    I just heard from the local distributor of Alaskan beer (which is brewed here in Juneau) that all AK beer is shipped from Juneau to Seattle, where it is shipped back to Juneau for distribution to retailers. The only exceptions to this are the beer sold in the brewery gift shop (which has never even left the brewery) and the beer sold at Costco, which the brewery just delivers to the big box across the street for sale. No wonder our local beer is more expensive here than it is in California. The funny thing is, staff at the brewery wasn't aware of this shipping pattern, and couldn't figure out why their beer was so expensive on the shelves either. Guess it might be time to find a new local distributor, both to reduce the carbon footprint of the product and to keep retail prices down.

    Although ALL of our groceries (and other products) must be shipped in (except seafood), since nothing is grown locally, the one blessing is that because there is no road to Juneau, everything comes in via barge, which is much more efficient than a fleet of trucks hauling shipping containers 2,000 miles from the continental US.

    I think I originally saw this link somewhere else in Cyburbia, but I'll post it here because it's so relevant: http://www.carbonfootprint.com/ I don't think that the survey is perfect, and it leaves a lot of room for error, but on the whole it's a great tool to see how your actions (and changes thereto) can affect your carbon footprint. Suffice it to say that except for those few people who survive by hunting and fishing without the use of gas motors in their boats and snow machines (snowmobiles), all Alaskans have horribly high carbon footprints, simply due to the fact that we live so far from where our food, clothes, building materials, etc. are produced.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    While the idea of this kind of food labelling sounds appealing, one problem -- at least in the U.S. -- will be the argument that it may run up against federal preemption -- in other words, that anything involving food labelling needs to be regulated at the federal, not the state or local level.

    To switch gears a bit, we published an article last year in the Planning Commissioners Journal that included the following which might be of interest to some of you:

    "A 2001 study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University found that food delivered by conventional means to a group of local hotels, restaurants, and institutions traveled an average of 1,546 miles, while the same foods produced locally traveled under 45 miles. The study concluded that a modest ten percent statewide increase in local and regional produce sales by Iowa farms would net more than 54 million additional dollars, save 350,000 gallons of fuel, and reduce C02 emissions by nearly 8 million pounds." From Hannah Twaddell, "This Little Piggy Went to Market: The Journey From Farm to Table," Planning Comm'rs Journal, Issue #63 (Summer 2006). The Iowa State study she cited was “Food, Fuel, and Freeways,” p. 14.

  12. #12
    maudit anglais
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    Moderator note:
    Now that we have an Environmental Sub-forum, I've moved this thread.

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    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    We've had a couple articles in our local paper about restricting your diet to within 50 miles of where it's produced. So now we have to ask where the pigs/cows were slaughtered?

    I get the idea, reducing travel costs. But still....

  14. #14
    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    Greens Grow Farm, Philly

    I saw a great show on PBS about this urban farm in Philly. Greens Grow Farm took a vacant city block and turned into a farm.

    "Greensgrow Farms is the story of making a vision a reality. In 1997 Mary Seton Corboy and Tom Sereduk started Greensgrow Farm with the idea of selling right off the farm produce to Philadelphia chefs... To insure freshness and save on bridge tolls, we built Greensgrow Farm just 3 miles from downtown Philadelphia.

    Today Greensgrow is THE nationally recognized leader in urban farming (don't just take our word for it...) and is open to the public from early spring through Thanksgiving. A small but dedicated staff runs a multifaceted operation, including a nursery, a farm market, and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, proving that abandoned land is only abandoned if we choose to leave it that way."

    http://www.greensgrow.org/

    I hope to check it out during the conference... I don't think there is a session on it.
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  15. #15
          Downtown's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Zoning Goddess View post
    We've had a couple articles in our local paper about restricting your diet to within 50 miles of where it's produced. So now we have to ask where the pigs/cows were slaughtered?

    I get the idea, reducing travel costs. But still....
    Local-vores

    http://www.vermontlocalvore.org/challenge/

    I'd miss my coffee and rice too much.

    If I didn't have kids, and weren't married to a PAMF eater, I'd seriously consider trying it for a month.

  16. #16
    BANNED
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    I think this is a good idea, though it would meet a huge amount of resistance to start putting it on labels, and that's understandable. But I think it's important to think about how far food travels. I'm so used to seeing peaches available year-round, I don't even think about how far they come from anymore. What I do notice is quality--most of the fruit in chain grocery stores is awful. I wouldn't mind going back to the days of buying fruits and vegetables only when they are in season locally. I would feel a little more aware of natural cycles.

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