Eat global

Ronald Bailey challenges the conventional wisdom about consuming locally grown foods and minimizing “food miles” to improve the environment.  He presents arguments that the transportation costs of food production are just one factor to consider, along with the suitability of a given crop to being cultivated in a particular location.  For instance, growing a warm-weather crop in a heated greenhouse may negate the reduced carbon footprint of eating local:

Other researchers have determined that Kenyan cut rose growers emit 6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 12,000 roses compared to the 35 tons of carbon dioxide emitted by their Dutch competitors. Kenyan roses grow in sunny fields whereas Dutch roses grow in heated greenhouses.

Nevertheless, organic food activists in Britain’s Soil Association argued for lifting the organic certification from Kenyan food exports because they are brought into Britain on airplanes. Some high-end British retailers have begun slapping a label featuring an airplane on various food products to indicate that they have been air freighted. Kenyan growers cannily responded by launching their own “Grown Under the Sun” label, pointing out that their agricultural production methods emit far less greenhouse gases than many crops grown in Britain do.

Of course there are other factors to consider: labor issues, political structures, trade impacts, etc.  I’m an avid fan of eating local, but as with so many public policy prescriptions, dogmatic adherence to a course of action does not make it the only correct one.

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