Magazine article New Zealand Management

When Food Miles Fail

Magazine article New Zealand Management

When Food Miles Fail

Article excerpt

New Zealand's economy is shaped by the rest of the world, we are reminded in the food and beverage sector's "engagement strategy 2006-07". Improving our economic performance "is integrally linked to the quality of our global connectedness"

More significantly, the strategy paper says the global food and beverage industry is at a crossroads. Changing consumer demands and industry configurations are necessitating a coordinated response from New Zealand's food and beverage sector to match its international competitors and secure its contribution to the nation's future prosperity.

We are in big trouble if the New Zealand industry falters. It is the country's largest manufacturing sector, in output terms, and contributes half of all New Zealand's merchandise exports by value.

The strategy paper identifies four "mega-trends" around the world; one of them is "social issues", or the environmental and fair trade issues affecting consumer attitudes.

Trade Negotiations Minister Phil Goff, addressing Cairns Group Farm Leaders on 19 September, highlighted just one of those issues: the concept of "food miles". As Goff put it, "European primary producers and some NGOs would have consumers believe that distance from the market is a key indicator of a product's impact on the environment through carbon dioxide emissions. Products from countries as distant from their markets as New Zealand are branded as environmentally undesirable."

Lincoln University scientists have debunked the notion that the further food must travel to market, the worse its environmental impact. Their study shows that when consideration is given to New Zealand farming methods and the total amount of energy used, especially in the production phase, New Zealand producers are more energy-efficient and create fewer emissions, even after the energy consumed by transport is taken into account. A study by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs similarly concluded that a single indicator based on total miles or kilometres is an inadequate indicator of environmental sustainability.

Food miles may well be another thinly disguised protectionist mechanism, regardless of the science. But as Goff advised the Cairns Group: "We do need to think about how we can best respond to demands for better quality food and niche consumer interests. We also need to be asking ourselves ... what we can do to develop food production systems with a lighter footprint on the environment."

Like it or not, the customer is always right and British and American supermarkets have become decidedly picky about their food. …

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