Food miles: a profoundly flawed sustainability indicator

Matt Ridley, on page 41 of The Rational Optimist:
Should we not protest T-shirt miles, too, and laptop miles? After all, fruit and vegetables account for more than 20 percent of all exports from poor countries, whereas most laptops come from rich countries, so singling out food imports for special discrimination means singling out poor countries for sanctions. Two economists recently concluded, after studying the issue, that the entire concept of food miles is a 'profoundly flawed sustainability indicator'. Getting food from the farmer to the shop causes just 4 percent of all its lifetime emissions. Ten times as much carbon is emitted in refrigerating British food as in air-freighting it from abroad, and fifty times as much is emitted by the customer travelling to the shops. A New Zealand lamb, shipped to England, requires one-quarter as much carbon to get on to a London plate as a Welsh lamb; a Dutch rose, grown in a heated greenhouse and sold in London, has six times the carbon footprint of a Kenyan rose grown under the sun using water recycled through a fish farm, using geothermal electricity and providing employment to Kenyan women.
Ridley's book is terrific. Please buy a copy and read it. Or listen to the audio book, which is available at the BCPL. If you read it, join Phil Bowermaster's Facebook group Let's Get 1000 People to Read the Rational Optimist.

* Yes, We Have No Bananas: a Critique of the Food-Miles Perspective, by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu. Mercatus Center, George Mason University.

See also Ron Bailey's The Food-Miles Mistake.

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