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Another Food Scandal

by DoDo Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 11:55:20 AM EST

A brewing food scandal recently reached Brussels. It concerns Austro-Hungarian food import company Mega Trade, which forged papers in industrial fashion. Primarily post-dating the safety date, but also making up bio-certificate for supposed organic products. The Commission will investigate after a query in the EP.

One problem this case highlights is the difficulty the increasingly international trade conducted by the nexus of agrobusiness and supewrmarket chains poses to food safety control, which is still largely national.

A deeper one is just how far we are from a sustainable food production: even (what is sold as) organic food is transported for hundreds to thousands of kilometres...


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Well, I am glad that more and more local supermarkets here are offering food from local farmers. They usually give the adress of the farmers. So at times I prefer to buy these instead of organic foods from far away.
by Fran on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 12:08:13 PM EST
Fran, you beat me to it! :-)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 12:11:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hope supermarkets here will get "there" in two decades... though by that time I might have been moved Westward...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 04:05:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
even (what is sold as) organic food is transported for hundreds to thousands of kilometres.

That's why, when faced with the choice, I prefer to buy local non-organic than organic from far away. By this I mean produce from good-quality local producers, not industrial foods. I realize it's not possible, or at least not easy, for everyone to make that kind of choice. I can, either by buying at farmers' market, or direct from the producer.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 12:10:27 PM EST
Gotta love Europe!  THIS is a food scandal!?  

In the US it's rogue e coli (the kind that makes you very sick and sometimes kills you) in green vegetables.  

Oh, yes, it is being "investigated."  No one is saying how e coli gets into green vegetables since there is no normal way for that to happen.  (Maybe they are irrigating the crops with raw sewage from slaughter-houses.)

We haven't exactly done away with food labelling.  But the label does not have to be true.  Does away with all that messy "cheating."  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 12:32:04 PM EST
The E Coli problem could happen here. We had mad cow disease, remember?

The interesting thing is that the first (I think) E Coli case in America was with organic spinach grown in California. There was certainly something organic being sprayed around there...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 01:58:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]


The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 02:20:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From Aplia Econ blog, and article in The Economist:

[...] Think globally, act locally?

Buying direct means producers get a fair price, with no middlemen adding big margins along the distribution chain. Nor has local food been shipped in from the other side of the country or the other side of the world, so the smaller number of "food miles" makes local food greener, too. Local food thus appeals in different ways to environmentalists, national farm lobbies and anti-corporate activists, as well as consumers who want to know more about where their food comes from.

Obviously it makes sense to choose a product that has been grown locally over an identical product shipped in from afar. But such direct comparisons are rare. And it turns out that the apparently straightforward approach of minimising the "food miles" associated with your weekly groceries does not, in fact, always result in the smallest possible environmental impact.

The term "food mile" is itself misleading, as a report published by DEFRA, Britain's environment and farming ministry, pointed out last year. A mile travelled by a large truck full of groceries is not the same as a mile travelled by a sport-utility vehicle carrying a bag of salad. Instead, says Paul Watkiss, one of the authors of the DEFRA report, it is more helpful to think about food-vehicle miles (ie, the number of miles travelled by vehicles carrying food) and food-tonne miles (which take the tonnage being carried into account).

The DEFRA report, which analysed the supply of food in Britain, contained several counterintuitive findings. It turns out to be better for the environment to truck in tomatoes from Spain during the winter, for example, than to grow them in heated greenhouses in Britain. And it transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day. Another surprising finding was that a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being travelled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles.

Research carried out at Lincoln University in New Zealand found that producing dairy products, lamb, apples and onions in that country and shipping them to Britain used less energy overall than producing them in Britain. (Farming and processing in New Zealand is much less energy intensive.) And even if flying food in from the developing world produces more emissions, that needs to be weighed against the boost to trade and development. [...]

by Laurent GUERBY on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 04:38:21 PM EST
I'd already seen the DEFRA stuff. You read it, all lined up like this, and you think, wow, yeah, right. But - though there's some truth in it - it's mostly tendentious.

It turns out to be better for the environment to truck in tomatoes from Spain during the winter, for example, than to grow them in heated greenhouses in Britain.

Any winter tomatoes are grown in greenhouses, even in Spain. OK, not heated as British greenhouses would be. But is this a real choice? Are there British greenhouse tomatoes on the market in any great quantity? What's better for the environment, anyway, is not only to consume local spacewise, but also timewise, in other words eat fruit and veg in season. Winter greenhouse tomatoes are rubbish. Why buy them? (Unless occasionally if you must).

it transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day.

Why, sure. So let's truck and fly food in, and people will stop driving to and from the supermarkets?

The whole point made about cars (an SUV with one salad aboard, or people driving around buying stuff from farms, etc) ignores of course that people who choose to buy local tend to be aware of these problems. One trip to farmers' market is better than several to local producers.

Research carried out at Lincoln University in New Zealand found that producing dairy products, lamb, apples and onions in that country and shipping them to Britain used less energy overall than producing them in Britain.

It would, wouldn't it? I have my doubts.

even if flying food in from the developing world produces more emissions, that needs to be weighed against the boost to trade and development.

Righty-ho. This is where we know we're reading The Economist.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 05:00:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, and not to forget that some of the local markets might be in walking distance, or at least in easy range for the bike. These seem not to be taken into account. And maybe it is time to create more shopes were people live, so the can access them without car.
by Fran on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 05:12:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is the DEFRA PDF available somewhere? Is there some real data in it or just sentences like above?

As for food transportation, it looks to me that orgnized home delivery tours (may be internet purchases) have the potential to be more transporation efficient than everyone round-trip'ing to the supermarket (unless it is on work-home path).

by Laurent GUERBY on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 05:30:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We demolished the "food mile" concept 5 months ago here. I think all you have to do is google:
If you go to google Defra and "food mile" you'll find a recent report showing that "food miles" are an inadequate indicator.
At least it worked for me back then.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 06:06:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First link on google is now the economist article... It's always better to put the link than rely on google :).

It's obvious that food miles is not the right unit since you need to take transporation mode and production inputs into account.

NZ study of the topic (PDF), seems to conclude that for some products it's vastly more energy-efficient to ship them to UK from NZ than to produce them in the UK.

by Laurent GUERBY on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 03:56:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There still is hope to eat NZ kiwis in Europe???

Bliss!!

Now, I like this report, but would there be any interest here to do an audit of these findings? Are there elements missing, can we extend the given framework for other products?

by Nomad on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 04:47:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can always eat NZ kiwis in Europe. The question is, at what price.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 05:21:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ever since the kiwi issue got flagged at the start of this year, I now feel guilty when I pick up a kiwi, being uncertain whether it's produced sustainably.

Conscious man, conscious!

by Nomad on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 06:15:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What does sustainably mean? Sensu strictu, any use of fossil fuels is not sustainable, but using no fossil fuels is an absurd requirement.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 06:25:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In that definition, only a speck of total production is produced sustainably nowadays...

In the kiwi-case, I was thinking of an alternative kiwi produced somewhere closer to the Netherlands than NZ (which is probably Everywhere Else). That would make the description perhaps: less un-sustainable.

by Nomad on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 06:34:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
More sustainable, less unsustainable, more acidic, less basic, more europhilic, less eurosceptic...

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 06:36:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But less un-sustainable does not equate to more sustainable!
by Nomad on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 07:28:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
saving fossil oil products for rarer uses, like lubrication, and using more renewables for transport, heating etc.

it's about having a sense of proportion, isn't it?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 07:35:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't read in details the 117 pages PDF but it looks like that it's mainly use of fertilizer and industrial diary food (forage and cereals) that causes UK production to be more "inefficient" carbon wise (see table page 61).
by Laurent GUERBY on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 05:21:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So what happens if we take those out of the equation? I need to copy the spreadsheet when at home...

Too bad that they didn't take kiwis as example...

But I like the set-up, very bookkeepish. It looks superior to considering just foodmiles as metric.

by Nomad on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 06:27:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]

This map shows (in green) Flanders(Belgium).
The red dots mark places where local initiatives are working called "voedselteams" (foodteams).
In practice there are many more than the red dots suggest.
It is about local grown vegetables and fruits, mostly, producers are members of a controled bio-label .

  • 10 to 15 households form a 'team'.
  • The commitement is to pick up weekly a 'basket' of vegetables and fruits by a local farmer.(red dots)
  • There is a fix price for a 'basket' to pay once a month.
  • The farmer or producer composes a 'basket' with what is available (local and from the season), if necessary other producers can provide: there is a very efficient distribution system for bio-products in place.

This system has several advantages:
  • You know what you eat, where it comes from, and the people who provide it. No middleman.
  • It is a (ahum, ok...not always) weekly surprise what is in your 'basket'.
  • The producer, knowing he has clients, can calculate in advance a lot of things: what an how much to plant, sow, order by fellow-producers (through a distribution-cooperative)......

Well, this is the short story. But a lot more has to do with it, as I found out visiting friends and family.
  • The kids love it to see where their food is coming from: in the pick-up places they can see where and how things grow and...
  • At first, hearing the price it seems very expensive, but after a few weeks you realise it's even cheap compared to your usual stores.
  • In practice I see that one person collects the 'baskets' and distributes them among 3 to 6 other households; it's a garanteed weekly social contact. Sometimes this task is for everyone on turn, when the team has 12 households you have to do it only every 3 months.


The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 07:52:47 PM EST
Great info, ElcoB, thanks.  Do they have info re: How to set up; how it works' etc...?  Might be useful for setting up similar systems elsewhere.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 08:01:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the initiative in Flanders started some years ago with people and organisations linked to Oxfam(fair trade), ecological movement and third world actions.
I searched around but I couln't find simular initiatives in other country's.
In Flanders there is a central organisation who promotes the idea with succes: they have a website only in Flemish: VOEDSELTEAMS.Weet wat je eet. (Foodteams, know what you eat.)

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon Dec 18th, 2006 at 08:26:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How many households are supplied currently by this admirable network?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 06:24:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hard to get figures, since this is about local initiatives.
But at some point there where 150 known 'foodteams' with around 10 households each. Sure this is far from a mass-movement but it demonstrates the possibility of sustainable local (bio/organic)farming and 'alternative' distribution.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Tue Dec 19th, 2006 at 08:58:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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