A recent article in the National Post of Canada casts doubt on the justification for consumers purchasing produce at local farmers’ markets and boutique food stores. The locovore movement has expanded concurrently with a greater awareness for conservation of resources. This is manifested by recycling, composting, backyard chickens and other activities creating the illusion of preserving the environment which have become popular among affluent urbanites.
As with many fads, which are promoted by well-intentioned or downright mercenary writers and speakers, there is little scientific or economic basis for the locovore movement. Recent publications in peer reviewed journals by reputable scientists have demonstrated the fallacy of considering only distance in selecting foods. Examples quoted in the article included New Zealand lamb, Dutch hothouse roses and domestic tomatoes all of which have been branded “unfriendly” by purists in the UK. When the total quantum of carbon dioxide emission is calculated, imported products produced under intensive conditions beat local products.
Despite the 10,000 mile journey from a New Zealand slaughterhouse to a UK supermarket, a ton of New Zealand lamb is associated with the production of 1,520 lbs. of carbon dioxide. In contrast British lamb produced under less favorable climatic and pasture conditions generates 6,300 lbs. per ton of processed meat.
Kenya can deliver 12,000 cut roses using airfreight at 13,300 lbs. of carbon dioxide compared to 77,000 lbs. for the same quantity of blooms grown in a heated Dutch greenhouse. Shipping products in bulk in containerized vessels, refrigerated rail cars or even aircraft is invariably superior with regard to carbon dioxide release than local products.
Studies conducted by reputable scientists at Carnegie Mellon University determined that 80% of carbon dioxide emissions are associated with production compared with 14% required for transport from farm to supermarket.
Feed conversion efficiency of free-range and non-confined flocks is inferior to conventional production in cages. The differential in efficiency is attributed to lower flock production, higher mortality and greater expenditure of energy for floor and pastured flocks. This in turn is reflected in higher consumption and hence cultivation of grains. The added environmental burden from the inherent inefficiencies of organic cultivation of corn and soybeans and artificial restrictions on synthetic amino acids results in an even wider disparity in carbon dioxide evolution compared to intensive systems.
Locovores should be guided more by economics, lifetime assessments and common sense than their instinctive and unfounded prejudices against commercial production and distribution.