Eating Local may not be Energy Efficient

From the Financial Times:

In a study published last year, New Zealand’s Lincoln University measured everything from electric fences to farm sheds, tractors and animal feed, and found that dairy and lamb production in New Zealand was more energy efficient than the British equivalent, even when the 12,000-mile trip to the UK was included.

While New Zealand, whose agricultural exports represent a big chunk of the country’s revenues, has good reasons for making such an assertion, others have reached similar conclusions. “Transport has been taken out and highlighted,” says Rebecca White, a researcher at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute (ECI). “But you can’t single out one part [of the food system] and say something that’s come from thousands of miles away is automatically less sustainable – it’s much more complicated than that.”

Ken Green would agree. With a team of researchers at Manchester Business School, he recently completed a report for the UK’s department for environment, farming and rural affairs (Defra), assessing the environmental impact of 150 top-selling food items. After 199 pages of detail on everything from automatic picking machines to consumer packaging, the researchers find no strong evidence that locally sourced foods are better, in environmental terms at least, than global produce – and in some cases the opposite is true.

I know that I may be coming across as “anti-local” this past week, but I’m really not. I’m a huge advocate for local foods, but not because it’s environmentally healthy.

From where I sit, there are two reasons I like to eat local foods:

First, they often taste better. There are probably several scientific reasons for this, the most likely being that local food doesn’t have to be bred to endure transports that last for days.

Second, I like supporting my local economy. Quite frankly, I’d rather see my money primarily stay in my community and benefit my friends and neighbors and those who share my politics. There’s no garauntee of this happening when I shop for foods (both markets and restaurants) at nationally recognized locations.

But environmentally? I’m not sure that’s been my motivation for any local food other than water. A quick review of the archives bear me out on this.

So my question to all of you locavores is this: Do you buy local for the environmental impact? If so, what do you think of the Financial Times article?