Growth Pt2

We’re growing Silver beet – first attempt…

I was thinking about the post I put up on growth, and the effects of Peak Oil and overpopulation on food production and distribution, and came across this:

How far does an average piece of food travel before it goes in your mouth?

Apparently between 1,500 and 2,500 miles (2,500 and 4,000 kilometers) from farm to table. A new study by the Worldwatch Institute details the lengthy journeys that much of the nation’s food supply now takes, finding a growing separation between the sources and destinations of American food.

The distance that food travels has grown by as much as 25 percent, according to the report by the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental and social policy research institute based in Washington DC. The nation’s reliance on a complex network of food shipments leaves the United States vulnerable to supply disruptions, the group argues.

“The farther we ship food, the more vulnerable our food system becomes,” said Worldwatch research associate Brian Halweil, author of “Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market.”

“Many major cities in the U.S. have a limited supply of food on hand,” Halweil added. “That makes those cities highly vulnerable to anything that suddenly restricts transportation, such as oil shortages or acts of terrorism.”

This vulnerability is not limited to the United States. The tonnage of food shipped between countries has grown fourfold over the last four decades, while the world’s population has doubled. In the United Kingdom, for example, food travels 50 percent farther than it did two decades ago.

This reliance on long distance food damages rural economies, as farmers and small food businesses become the most marginal link in the sprawling food chain, says the Worldwatch report. Long distance travel also creates numerous opportunities along the way for food contamination, and requires the use of artificial additives and preservatives to keep food from spoiling.

Food transportation also contributes to global warming, because of the huge quantities of fuel used for transportation. A typical meal bought from a conventional supermarket chain – including some meat, grains, fruit and vegetables – consumes four to 17 times more petroleum for transport than the same meal using local ingredients.

“We are spending far more energy to get food to the table than the energy we get from eating the food. A head of lettuce grown in the Salinas Valley of California and shipped nearly 3,000 miles to Washington, D.C., requires about 36 times as much fossil fuel energy in transport as it provides in food energy when it arrives,” Halweil said.

While most economists believe that long distance food trade is efficient because communities and nations can buy their food from the lowest cost provider, studies from North America, Asia, and Africa show that farm communities reap little benefit from their crops, and often suffer as a result of freer trade in agricultural goods.

“The economic benefits of food trade are a myth,” said Halweil. “The big winners are agribusiness monopolies that ship, trade, and process food. Agricultural policies, including the new [Bush administration backed] farm bill, tend to favor factory farms, giant supermarkets, and long distance trade, and cheap, subsidized fossil fuels encourage long distance shipping. The big losers are the world’s poor.”


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