Jan 14, 2013

To save on global warming, why food is allowed to travel across continents? Why not popularise local products and local markets?

Some decades back I had written on how Pepsi was shipping its used PET bottles, used for packing soft drinks, to Chennai in India for recycling. These bottles would then again be shipped back to the US for use. Why Pepsi took this detour for recycling PET bottles was simply because recycling of plastic waste is not easily allowed in the US (it has very stringent norms) for health and environmental reasons, and that obviously adds on to the cost.

Later, in 1994, I remember reading an excellent report Food Miles produced by Sustain. It told us about the dangers of shipped food across the continents, processed and repacked elsewhere, and then shipped back to the same country from where it all started. There were several glaring examples, which should have woken up the policy makers and of course the economists who talk of everything but little sense. Food on an average travels 3,000 miles before it reaches your plate. This itself was such a startling revelation that should have made consumers to rethink, but somehow it did not. The report is now updated and republished and you can have a copy (click this link to know more about http://www.sustainweb.org/publications/?id=191).

Yesterday, Zac Goldsmith forwarded a tweet, which reminded me of the hidden cost of the global food transport system. The Sunday Times, London, had several years back reported how British prawns were being shipped to China for hand-shelling, and then shipped back to UK for the consumers. Supermarkets are excelling in globe-trotting for food products, taking advantage of the cheap processing costs (and also taking advantage of the massive fuel subsidies) and remain unmindful of the carbon footprint they generate in the process.

Take this example. The tradecraft coffee that supermarket chain Sainsbury sells in its stores is grown in Bukoba, Tanzania. The coffee beans then travel 656 kms to Dar-es-Salaam from where it is shipped to Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh. Vijaywada is about 3,250 miles from Dar-es-Salaam. In Vijaywada, the beans are packed. It is again shipped to Southampton in UK, which is about 5,000 miles. From Southampton, it goes to Leeds from where it is redistributed to Sainsbury stores worldwide. I am sure with the approval granted to FDI in retail in India, Sainsbury will find it convenient to ship the packed coffee from Leeds to New Delhi (You can read the news report here: http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=1116).

Isn't it time therefore to do a serious rethink of our international trade policies? I have been saying for long that World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Climate negotiations actually work at cross-purposes. While WTO will push for more of such trade, it doesn't  pay any heed to the resulting carbon footprint such trade generates and the impact it has on global warming. Similarly, Climate negotiators are not calling for restricting such unwanted trade as a precursor to climate control standards.

I have never understood the logic of allowing apples to be imported all the way from New Zealand and Chile into India while there are no takers for apples from Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. Similarly, what is the logic behind allowing Washington apples to be exported to India, while Chinese apples travel all the way to the US, controlling roughly 45 per cent of the US market. The food globe-trotting is happening because the aviation fuel is damn cheap. Many have said that aviation fuel actually works to be cheaper than Coke !

Creating and popularising local markets is perhaps the only viable alternative to the madness of making food travel across the globe. Consumers have a very important role to play here. Try to avoid being lured by products which claim to have brought you the same processed stuff from far away which otherwise is grown in your neighbourhood. Keep a close watch. Why go for processed orange drink from Chile or from US, when you have much fresh and tasty juice available in your local market? Make such sensible choices. And your would have played your small but effective part in limiting global carbon foot print.  


sumit said...

thanks for sharing such articles which shake us from the roots. superb piece. God Bless You!!

Ramesh Dubey said...

कार्बन उगलने वाले खाद्य तंत्र का सटीक विशलेषण किया आपने। सच्‍चाई यह है कि खेत से लेकर थाली तक की लंबी यात्रा के कारण आहार आज दुनिया की सबसे बड़ी आर्थिक गतिविधि बन चुका है और इस प्रक्रिया में हर कदम पर बड़े पैमाने पर ग्रीन हाउस गैसों का उत्‍सर्जन होता है। औद्योगिक खाद्य तंत्र में पैदा होने से लेकर सुपर मार्केट में पहुंचने तक आधे खाद्य पदार्थ नष्‍ट हो जाते है जिन्‍हें कचराघरों में डंप करने व उनके सड़ने से भी बड़ी मात्रा में जीएचजी उत्‍सर्जित होती है। यह नष्‍ट हुई खाद्य सामग्री दुनिया में भुखमरी के शिकार लोगों से 6 गुना अधिक लोगों के पेट की आग शांत कर सकती है।

Curry Berry said...

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Srinivasan said...

As a consumer based out of India ( I live in Navi Mumbai ) how can we exercise some choice in this matter ? Is it every possible to have a movement like Swadeshi movement which can force the hands of the companies?



vishal yogi said...

And what about this obsession called "travel the world to experience new cultures, and for vacation".
That is also a "justified" passion in modern life.