Imports greener than local produce?

Lincoln University torpedoed the food miles debate when it demonstrated that New Zealand’s dairy production was more efficient than the UK’s, even when greenhouse gases were taken in to account.

That hasn’t stopped people trying to persuade us to become locovores because, they say, eating local is better for the environment and the economy.

They are wrong on both counts.

Eating only, or even mostly, locally produced food would restrict what we eat and make it more expensive.

It isn’t necessarily any better for the environment either – 100 trucks travelling 10 kilometres would be no better, and might be worse, than one truck travelling 1000 kilometres.

 But transport is only one factor in the debate over whether local produce is better than imports.

Many of our staple foods aren’t local and there are good reasons why they shouldn’t be.

  Stephen Budiansky’s Liberal Curmudgeon Blog , says:

. . . why on earth would you want to try to grow these staple crops “locally”? Wheat grows very well in the Midwest where the climate, soil, and natural rainfall are conducive; it grows extraordinarily well there in large stands that can be fertilized and harvested efficiently. Yields per acre, thanks to the development of advanced strains of wheat and the extensive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, have more than tripled in the last century. Worldwide, hybrid varieties and synthetic nitrogen have generated even greater improvements in per-acre yields of rice and other staple food crops. Denounce big-ag all you want; buy local tomatoes all you want; the fact remains that chemical fertilizer, combine harvesters, hybrid crops, and modern transportation networks have done a few billion times more to save the planet than you ever will.

This is a small extract from a well argued post which I recommend reading in full.

If you told me that fresh fruit and vegetables from the home garden taste better than those mass produced and transported long distances, I wouldn’t argue, although my support for that contention would be based on feeling not fact.

But we can’t grow everything we need ourselves and Budiansky shows it’s better for the economy and environment if we don’t.

Hat Tip: Quote Unquote

13 Responses to Imports greener than local produce?

  1. gravedodger says:

    The food miles debate has been hijacked by two main pressure/lobby groups.
    Nutty green lobbies arguing from a position based on inaccurate theory based largely on their collective anti business ideas.
    Protectionists using similar rubbish theories to prevent competition for their already over protected systems.
    The first mob would have us all living on nutritionally suspect foods that they see as feel good and the second group of economic terrorists would have their citizens eating overpriced produce subsidized by their local taxpayers.
    Both groups should get a grip on reality but I fear that is not going to happen for a while yet.

  2. gravedodger says:

    I note Lord Nicholas Stern is here in Auckland from the U K lecturing us on reducing our carbon footprint or our trade will suffer.
    I can only suppose the arrogant bugger came on his bike HaHaHa, pun optional.

  3. Almost complete and utter nonsense from you on this issue Ele.
    How you managed to convince yourself that growing vegetables in your own home garden is inferior to buying them in astounds me.
    As for your ‘staple crops’ argument, is your soil and climate so poor you can’t grow spuds?
    Why is wheat a staple crop for you?
    You clearly haven’t looked into this issue to any depth at all. I suspect that you are spoiled by the over-abundance of prouce that we have enjoyed for too long. Barring coffee and tea, which should be classed as stimulant drugs rather than foodstuffs, you should, with a bit of creativity and study, be able to grow just about everything you need at home. Learning to preserve by various means gives you year-round supplies.
    Fact, not feeling Ele.

  4. homepaddock says:

    “If you told me that fresh fruit and vegetables from the home garden taste better than those mass produced and transported long distances, I wouldn’t argue,. . . ”

    That doesn’t mean home grown is inferior, it means I prefer it.

    Wheat is staple becaue I eat bread, pizza, pasta and a whole lot of other food which requires flour.

    We could grow almost everything we need but the point of the post to which I linked is that doing so is not necessarily better for the environment or economy.

  5. Ah but it is better for the environment Ele. I don’t follow your reasoning here at all.
    What do you mean?
    You might argue that importing food is ‘better for the economy’ but is that a valid reason to do it?
    I think not. Many things ‘stimulate the economy’ – Christchurch’s earthquake (according to Key) for example, but are not good things in many other ways, are they.
    I don’t accept your claims at all.
    Your wheat habit is causing environmental problems Ele!
    Change your ways for the sake of the planet.
    Btw – the world record for wheat production is held by a Southland farmer.

  6. Gravedodger, it seems, shares your misunderstanding.

  7. homepaddock says:

    “Ah but it is better for the environment”

    You have facts to counter the findings of Lincoln University and the arguments in Stephen Budiansky’s post?

    Lots of people growing a little in their backyards isn’t necessarily better for the environment than fewer people growing lots on farms further away.

    What do I replace wheat with and why would that be better?

  8. gravedodger says:

    I remember a significant debate among Canterbury wheat growers in the 1950s over the merits of growing wheat instead of more suitable and /or economically appropriate crops.New Zealand soils and climate produced poor “baking scores” due to rapid growth and plump grains and durum wheat for biscuits and pasta was deemed a non starter.
    “Hilgendorf” variety was developed to raise the Bake score and it did give good results there but was difficult to grow and susceptable to disease.
    The case was made to grow alternative crops to wheat and import better quality grain from West Australia. With our protected transport system and high handling costs it was cheaper to land imported wheat at the ports than the local produce. The destination for the low quality “reject” wheat was diversion to stock feed and some of us quickly worked out just producing that quality was financially advantageous with lower quality requirements and higher yields.
    Just one small illustration of what I assumed you were portraying and there are many examples of what are seen in current trading environment as inappropriate import substitution that were in place as we came out of the necessary self reliance inspired policies of war time trading reality.
    New Zealand has been a very large player in the tradeable dairy sector for many years and it is galling when inefficient producers are kept in business with subsidised production that inevitably has to be dumped when demand and production get out of sync and our trade is adversly affected.

  9. “Lots of people growing a little in their backyards isn’t necessarily better for the environment than fewer people growing lots on farms further away.”

    Yes it is. Why on earth do you say it’s not?

    What are you getting from wheat that you can’t get from a full diet that has no wheat?
    (‘Wheat’ doesn’t count as an answer).

  10. JC says:

    Well, as the Europeans sometime bitterly say: If goods and services can’t cross borders.. armies certainly will”.


  11. Farmer Baby Boomer says:

    I’m pleased you posted this HP. The article was certainly worth a read. But it was the discussion following it which aroused my interest most. Quite a bit of discussion around Genetic Engineering. And some links from there to papers on the unintended effects of Genetic Manipulation which I will definitely be following up. (when I find the time that is – my wife thinks I spend to much time researching ‘stuff’ on the net as it is!)
    Anyway, thanks for the links.

  12. The Locavore movement is not about trying to grow everything that we have come to think that we cannot live without locally. Its about changing our relationship with food to become one which is more sustainable, through recognition of what our land is capable of, and not what we desire. It is about recognizing what is sustainable to grow in our local area and allowing that to dictate our diet, as opposed to marketing campaigns which commodify one of our most basic needs. I am not anti-capitalist, rather, I believe in sustainable capitalism, not predatory capitalism. That is, I’d suggest, where you and I part ways.

  13. homepaddock says:

    “I am not anti-capitalist, rather, I believe in sustainable capitalism, not predatory capitalism. That is, I’d suggest, where you and I part ways.”

    I don’t think we do part ways here, I don’t support unsustainable capitalism.

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