Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Fair Trade and Food Miles

The major supermarkets are vying for position in demonstrating their green credentials. Tesco seems to be leading the pack in food labelling by announcing it will shortly be adding food miles. If Tesco really want to tackle climate change by reducing aviation then why don't they withdraw their clubcard deals on airmiles? - stop encouraging their customers to fly. No doubt the Chief Executive, Mr Leahy would say it's all about giving consumers choice.

And on that note, when I start checking out the food miles on my green beans from Kenya versus my locally-sourced runner beans which is the more ethical choice? More environmentally friendly to buy local - but then the UK farmer probably lives in a nice house, sends his children to school and has three square meals a day. His Kenyan counterpart will be existing on a lot less - better to suffer some greenhouse gas emissions and support the developing world? I really don't know.


Will said...

I think your question about green beans is a really important one. It's by no means an easy one to solve because as you say you have a green argument against a social justice argument, both competing for the prize of 'most ethical'. Often, living or behaving in an ethical manner is confused with living or behaving in a green manner. Sometimes the ethical thing to do might be to behave in a less green way.

Without wishing to sound like Tony Blair, I suggest that there might be a third way. If you buy your beans locally and also support projects which aim to help farmers in the third world (after all they are only growing beans to sell to us, far better for them to support their own local economy and family's needs) then this might be some sort of compromise. It might work out more expensive, but your support for the farmers need not take the form of financial aid - perhaps we could do something else.

pete said...

Food miles isn't the problem - junk miles is. The vast majority of 'miles' are devoted to consumerism and escapism. Also to coping with the reinvented slavery that dodgy businesses, landlords and such perpetrate. Buy to let? Buy to enslave seems a more honest description of the trend for owning more than one home.

pete said...

Outbound links don't seem to work :(

Will said...

Carbon miles in general are a vexed issue! My business doesn't sell food - it sells flowers (we were the first UK florist to sell FFP accredited flowers and plants, pretty much the greenest about, and we have pretty good ethical credentials). But difficult questions still arise.

The classic conundrum in flowers is whether consumers should buy flowers grown in Holland (short distance to UK but with quite high energy input required in their growth) or buy African-grown flowers (less energy expended in growing them but then they’re flown here plus growing flowers can damage the local environment and divert local resources away from more important agriculture (food crops, basically)).

Anyway, on that particular front, we favour the European option, and most of our flowers come from Holland. But basically, it’s not simple and it never will be. I think the secret is, you have to keep thinking about all areas of your business (product, distribution, wastage, etc) and keep thinking of ways to minimise your environmental impact. Whether or not the big boys like tesco etc will ever be able to do this with any level of flexibility, who knows?!