Monday, January 22, 2007

"Ethical produce" will starve the developing world

As it's such a slow news day I want to pass comment on something that is bugging me in the environmental debate, this so-called issue of "food miles". The argument is as follows. Food that travels from say Africa is hurting the environment, we should therefore buy locally sourced produce so we can save the environment.

I realise this sounds like a wonderful fluffy argument, but isn't this just protectionism by another name? If everyone suddenly stops buying food from the developing world on the basis of the miles it travels who will they sell it too? Should we really be advocating policies that will ensure the developing world remain poors by closing off trade to it?


Gavin Ayling said...

Almost all environmentalism is socialist policy by the backdoor. We should be wary. Very wary.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. If those African farmers produced food to feed themselves and to sell on local markets instead of for export we would be winners alround. I'm all for it.

As for the above comment that "all environmentalism is socialist policy through the back door" then I'm sorry but we are all doomed to having government building roads and houses willy nilly across the countryside. I for one dont want that.

Anonymous said...

Errrr. Yes, but..

Importing lettuce from Kenya in summer is silly, no?

On the other hand - what really matters is total energy cost of production.

I could knock down some council flats, build a triple glazed mega-conservatory and heat it to ninety five degrees, add some dopegrowers daylight machines and grow Avocado pears using peat compost and lots of manufactured fertilizers and wheelbarrow them to Tesco's.

Food miles - one half. Tonnes of carbon pollution per fruit - three.

Food miles are no substitute for thinking.

dizzy said...

anonymous.. so what you;re saying is let the peasants who have no money by it.

Ross said...

Anonymous: You typify the sort of economically clueless morons that holding Africa in a state of perpetual dependence. Well done, you'll still have an impoverished Africa for your heart to bleed about in fifty years.

We have a system more accurate than food miles that automatically judges the value of bringing produce from abroad. It takes into account transport cost and ensures that things are grown where it is most efficient for them to be grown. It's called the free market pricing system.

Besides which, an air-freighted container of 15,000 lettuce could plausibly generate fewer 'food miles' per lettuce than an organic lettuce grown by the eco-hippy nut that lives in the next town.

Serf said...

But Dizzy, you are missing the point.

Saving the world from Global Warming is about helping the poor, who will apparently be worst hit.

So these farmers grandchildren will thank us, if they or their parents don't starve first.

Fahrenheit said...

Quite so Ross.

In many ways Environmentalism and International Development are conflicting, if not totally incompatible agendas. Which is ironic, given that they tend to both be pushed by the same people, simultaneously.

[ ] Local food restricts developing countries’ access to world markets – thereby stunting their economic growth;

[ ] Organic and GM-free foods encourage biodiversity, but can’t possibly produce the yields needed to avert famines in the developing world;

[ ] So called ‘Fairtrade’ locks third world producers into inefficient, commodity-crop farming when they should be diversifying – thereby ensuring they will never earn more than just-above-poverty wages.

These agendas are both essentially bourgeois. It’s alright for us in the west because we are rich and developed enough to be able to make these food choices without risk, but to enforce them on the developing world is a death sentence – economically, developmentally, and (in many cases) physically.

Sadly, many on the left don’t actually want the third world to develop. They’d rather keep them in a mythical, agrarian ‘golden age’ and have this patronising view of people there as ‘noble savages’ – victims who need to be ‘saved’ from globalisation and the west.

They can’t accept the unpalatable truth that what people in the developing world REALLY want is to be go-getting, middle-class capitalists like the rest of us.

Stephen said...

Ross is right about the importance of a free market - but the problem is that the market is not free. The rules are stacked in favour of the OECD nations.

Besides, most of the high mileage food we import comes from places like the USA (often imported from South America and prcessed through the US)/Canada, Australia/New Zealand or elsewhere in the EU.

There is an important issue with food miles, of course. It is not the mileage that is the problem so much as the mode of transport. tea clippers are long gone, but if we imported tea by clipper still, then the environmental impact of all those miles would be nil.

But even modern shipping has far less environmental impact per mile than modern air freight. Thus fresh goods can have a higher impact even though they travel less distance.

A godd way to avoid impact fresh goods is to only eat seasonal produce. Then, as Ross says, the market tends to mitigate against heavy environmental impact because of the freight costs.

Anonymous said...

Ideology, faith, and other delusions aside, there is not enough agricultural land to feed a rapidly growing world population. At some point, some thing very soon, demand will exceed food supply and millions of the third world poor will simply starve. The only immediate solution is to curb population growth. In the first world the most effective method found is education: allow boys and girls to receive secular education and the fertility rate plummets. Incidently, religious peoples have the highest fertility rate, and the lowest standards of living.