Food miles - why eat 'local'?

You'll be surprised at how well-travelled your food is.
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  • Updated:28 Oct 2008

03.Arguments against

Here are the arguments against monitoring food miles.

It's anti-trade and anti-development, because it stops you buying imports

Is fair-trade organic chocolate from overseas such a bad choice? And what would happen to Australian exports if food miles were scrutinised too closely overseas? It's not just the distance that has an environmental impact, but how efficiently it was transported. However, consumers are unlikely to be told that. The method of transport is easier to display – a plane travelling from Auckland to Sydney emits more greenhouse gases than a ship with the same cargo – and you can make environmental inferences from that.

Tesco supermarket in the UK introduced a voluntary ‘air freighted’ logo on products to help consumers identify products with higher environmental impacts. A major UK organic certifier, the Soil Association, has been consulting on the issue, and has recommended changes to its organic standards aimed at reducing the amount of organic product that is air freighted into the UK and making sure ones that do come by air meet ethical trade standards.

It can reduce the variety in your diet

Experts agree that for good nutrition, we should eat a variety of foods. When the Canadian authors of the "100-mile diet" (Smith and MacKinnon) first started out, they found a limited range of food they could source within their self-imposed limit of 100 miles from home. Anyone here following the 100 mile diet strictly would feel similarly restricted on some of the basics – Melburnians couldn’t access sugar and Sydneysiders would have to go without wheat.


Food miles don't tell the whole environmental story

Not only do food miles not indicate the full greenhouse impact, they don't tell you the whole environmental and social story. They are just one piece of the 'grow-process-distribute-consume-dispose' chain. Farms and factories where our food is grown and processed have other environmental effects like impacts on wildlife, soil degradation and salinity, use of harmful pesticides, fertilisers that require a huge amount of energy to make, water and energy consumption, and wastage. Food miles don't tell the whole story – and people forget they weren't originally intended to.

It's hard to implement

The study of a typical Melbourne shopping basket, whilst shocking, is pretty hard for the average consumer to replicate. Even if you want to become a 'locavore', you can have a tough time finding out how far things have travelled. Inadequate food labelling means most products don’t tell you everything you would like to know, as our sustainable seafood article showed. Strict proponents of the 100 mile diet go to a lot of effort, asking lots of questions and finding new places to source their food from, to ensure their food miles are low.


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