David Langford/AP

Is Local Food Really More Environmentally Friendly?

June 25, 2008 10:32 AM
by Isabel Cowles
Hidden carbon costs suggest that locally produced food may have as much, if not more, of an environmental impact as industrialized farm products.

30-Second Summary

Eating locally may not be as environmentally friendly as leaders of the locavore movement had previously thought.

Local eating has been touted as the next wave in sustainable living. Although no exact definition of “local” exists, proponents of the local food movement generally believe that produce should travel no more than 100 to 200 miles from its original source.

The carbon footprint of local food, which requires little transportation, is believed by many to be smaller than that produced by large-scale, industrial farming, which ships edibles thousands of miles.

But new evidence suggests that hidden carbon costs may significantly increase the environmental impact of local food production and distribution. “Local food systems are often built around small-scale logistics,” says Chris Foster, a food researcher. “You begin to make more trips in cars. More food is shifted around in small trucks and vans, which are relatively energy-inefficient ways of moving.”

Additional factors, including the energy required to farm local produce in greenhouses during cold months, can offset the benefits of local food production. Deforestation caused by an increasing number of local farms can also damage the environment.

Nevertheless, there are clear positive aspects to local eating, such as the quality of food produced and the economic boost to the community.

Moreover, researchers have not fully determined all of the variables involved in measuring the environmental impact of food production on both a local and industrial scale. Food researcher Holly Hill noted, “There are so many complexities. Trying to make those real exact calculations is nearly impossible.”

Headline Link: ‘Food miles’ may not add up

Background: The hidden carbon costs of local food and farming

Opinions & Analysis: The global picture of local food

Related Topic: How to eat local


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