Anarchy in the UK Produce Aisle

The UK is definitely in something of a moral quandary about its food system right now. Just as the country’s largest organic-certification agency begins to consider taking away the organic label from any produce grown overseas, a new study suggests that harping on “food miles” causes consumers to lose sight of the truly important eco-food issues. As the Guardian reports, researchers from the University of Wales Institute found that only a measly 2 percent of the environmental impact of food comes from farm-to-store transit:

The vast majority of its ecological footprint comes from food processing, storage, packaging and growing conditions. So food grown locally could have a considerably bigger footprint than food flown halfway around the world, and consumers who make their choices on air miles alone may be doing more environmental harm, according to the scientists.

The article quotes Ruth Fairchild, of the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff:

Those [foods] could have been produced using pesticides that have travelled all the way around the world. If you just take food miles, it is the tiny bit on the end.

What’s a conscientious chowhound to do? Try an “ecological footprint analysis,” which compares the land and energy inputs required to do everything—from picking and packing to aging and fermenting—involved in the creation of a particular foodstuff. The researchers offer a sample diet in their paper, but its restrictions are a bit disheartening. Sadly, in a world of purely EFA-based eating, there would be no local farmstead cheeses, no artisanal charcuterie from nearby farms, not even wine from regional vintners: All of these foods require too much energy over their long production time, the researchers found. (Fortunately for breakfast lovers, eggs, bacon, and milk are all allowed.)

If it has taken this long for the concept of local eating to go mainstream, imagine what it would take to pry the Taleggio out of the hands of angry gourmands.

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