The food miles campaign is thought to be one reason for a 15% fall in New Zealand lamb sales in Britain.
For four years now some UK shops, like Tesco, have been promoting the food miles concept, meaning the closer to home something is produced the more sustainable it is. Now, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research says it can prove that theory wrong.
“Our cattle are grazed on grass rather than grain, and they’re housed outside most of the year rather than being in heated sheds,” says John Ballingall, “so the energy used in producing New Zealand food is often lower than the UK.”
In fact, the research shows that an average trip by car to the supermarket in Britain, 6.4km, to buy the weekly groceries uses the same amount of energy as shipping that food 8500km.
That’s a very impressive statistic but ecopolice don’t always let the facts get in the way of their religion and the green message is even infecting British hospitals which are being encouraged to serve less meat and cheese in a misguided attempt to be kinder on the environment.
Hospitals should serve meals which meet the dietry and health needs of the patients at the lowest cost and base their policies on facts not politics.
Less meat and cheese may be better for the health of some patients but not necessarily all and buying local isn’t necessarily better for the environment.
Food transported 100 miles by 10 trucks may have more impact on the environment than having it moved 1000 miles by one truck and as the NZIER figures above show going thousands of kilometres by ship is better than a few by car.
Besides, the distance food travels is only one factor in an assessment of it’s environmental footprint. A Lincoln University study showed New Zealand dairying produced less greenhouse gas than British dairying, even when the shipping was taken into account.
Given how short most hospital stays are these days patients are probably not in danger from the new prescription for their diets, but the implications of the other “green” initiative of greater sterilisation and reuse of equipment could be very serious if it increased the risk of infection.
However, the food miles debate might be academic because sustainability tends to be the concern of those wealthy enough to choose and as the recession bites households and hospitals alike are more likely to be more concerned about how much food costs than how far it travels.
Hat Tip: No Minister