Tuesday, 4 December 2007

local or eco?

I try to think about the environmental impact of the food we eat. I thought that this was a relatively easy thing to do just by using a bit of common sense, obvious things like eating less of foods that had travelled long distances, avoiding foods grown out of season which require a lot of heat for growth and avoiding processed foods where the individual ingredients may have travelled long distances. I assumed we were doing quite well and that eating seasonal local/UK produce was a good thing.

It was a surprise then a couple of weeks ago to read this article and particularly the following paragraph.

New Zealand butter, for instance, sold all the way round the world in the UK, has less carbon emitted per kilogram of butter than English butter, even taking its shipment into account. How can this be so? Because New Zealand cows are able to eat grass, which grows all year round. In the UK they eat artificial feeds for part of the year, and are kept in heated accommodation.

The butter we usually eat is Rachel's Dairy which made in Wales (not too far away really) using UK organic milk. It seems incredible to think that eating this is more harmful (in terms of CO2 emissions) than butter that has travelled about as far as it is possible to travel from the other side of the planet. I have tried to find some actual figures so I can see how big the difference is but so far haven't been able to find any.

I am going to continue eating UK organic butter as at least it is supporting UK farmers and I'd like to see some figures before making any change but it has made me wonder if any other "common sense" decisions are not actually the most beneficial for the environment.

Perhaps we need to rethink the way we look at all year round basic foods. After all butter and cheese used to be made with the surplus milk produced during the summer as a way of preserving the fresh milk. We are used to the idea of eating seasonally in terms of fruit and vegetables, maybe we need to extend the idea to other foods like dairy products, eggs etc.


Heather L. said...

Wow, that is really surprising! Somehow, I'm sure that there are other things out there that we don't realize along the same lines. It's so hard to know the right balance! It's nice that you are supporting local farmers, though.

Moonroot said...

Not something I would have even guessed at! Much food for thought (pun unintended).
I remember some years ago being paralysed by indecision when I had the choice of buying EITHER organic OR locally produced OR recycled. Which to choose? Trying to do 'the right thing' can be an ethical minefield. I suppose the important thing is that we're thinking about what we're buying and trying to do it right - even if it's confusing at times.

Ali said...

wow, that's crazy!!! I'd never have thought of that!

nĂ  said...

agh, there's a dilemna that i'd never thought of! hmm... a tough one there, though i agree with the idea of supporting local farmers. where possible i try to do seasonal. this is easy with fruit and vegetables as i just go with what's in the allotment rather than things grown in heated green houses. but with butter i dunno. i don't personally use it, opting for olive oil instead. but that would be an imported product in the uk too. hmm....

...still, already the fact that you buy that butter rather than any old butter is much wiser shopping than many people do.

i'm rambling, i'll shut up now! heehee!
have a good day :)

http://vintagepretty.org/ said...

I would be interested in seeing some firm data as some sites have been producing what could be, at best, called unfocussed at worst misleading data regarding many foodstuffs and their carbon footprints. At the moment there is little general consensus about what an item's carbon footprint actually is - though I can see how shipping a lettuce from Spain is more ecologically friendly than growing it here under heated glass in December. But still it doesn't make it a good idea!

Carbon footprints are a buzzword, and until they are unified and consistently measurable, I wouldn't worry. However I'd suggest you find a farmshop or dairy nearer to you and try getting it from there. Local butter is always better than the organic-but-shipped-in alternative!