- Trends across the UK, Australia and the US show that more and more consumers are buying locally produced food. At the extreme, a new hoard of “locavores” will only eat food produced within a 100 mile radius.
- Why? Consumers note that often the foods are fresher, of better quality, support local economies, and are expected to have a lower impact on the environment.
- Whilst many of these points are true, we have to be careful about environmental assumptions.
- Yes, locally grown food will save carbon by reducing transport emissions.. BUT (and it’s a big but)… previous research has shown that food grown in the UK often has to be more intensively farmed.
- Take milk as an example. UK cows have to be kept warm indoors through the winter, and eat processed feed when the grass won’t grow. The extra heating, food and other factors makes UK cows almost twice as bad for the environment in carbon terms than New Zealand cows – even when you take shipping into account.
- The emergence of “locavores” could have genuine impacts on the UK’s ability to achieve green food production. Consumers must be educated about the complexities of the environmental impacts associated with food, and turned away from single-issue foci like food miles.
Perhaps we do need a measure of “environmental goodness” on our packaging to inform customers, but it HAS to go beyond carbon or food miles alone. We have to realise that the impacts are never simple, and consider that other factors like the amount of water used for production, and the impacts on biodiversity or other ecosystem services are as important.
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