We’ve alluded to the idea that “food miles” need to be treated with caution elsewhere. Here’s another example: the Co-operative Group’s annual sustainability report contains details of a “life-cycle” analysis (LCA) of the amount of embedded carbon in a humble 400g punnet of strawberries.
The domestic “Ava” offering, grown at Blairgowrie farm in Scotland, contains 850g of carbon. The alternative “Sabrosa” strawberries, from Spain, contain only 600g of carbon. If you’re basing your purchase decision solely on global warming impact you should buy the Spanish version.
The main difference between the two is the stuff they’re grown on. In Scotland, peat is the medium of choice — and that’s where most of the embedded carbon comes from.
The counter-intuitive findings underscore the need to consider environmental costs in their entirety. The distance between farm and supermarket doesn’t tell the full story: everything that goes into the production process needs to be accounted for too.
LCA’s certainly provide food for thought. The obvious question is why can’t we produce local foods with a lower carbon footprint than those flown in from half way around the planet? It’s difficult to escape the feeling that the supermarkets have played a hand in this — driving farmer’s profit margins down, forcing the use of ever more “efficient” means of production.
For the consumer, the waters of clear-conscience shopping are once again muddied. We can only hope that, with the kind of work the Co-op are doing, it will one day be possible to tell which of the many choices on offer is the best, not just for our pockets but also the planet.