Shoppers who go the extra mile for food under fire

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Saturday is the day when people who buy organic or ethically sourced food can do the most damage to the planet. On the supermarkets' busiest day of the week, shoppers across the country are faced with what is being called the "food miles dilemma".

Saturday is the day when people who buy organic or ethically sourced food can do the most damage to the planet. On the supermarkets' busiest day of the week, shoppers across the country are faced with what is being called the "food miles dilemma".

Do you choose that packet of organic green beans flown from Africa on a CO2-emitting aircraft? Or do you pick British produce, which might be laden with pesticides and not be organic?

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the charity that publishes lists of fish to avoid in order to protect over-fished British waters, made matters worse last week. It endorsed two types of fish for domestic consumers - Pacific cod and South African hake, both of which rack up large "food miles".

Now the society and the Soil Association, which the Government uses to license organic food, have disclosed that they might take food miles into account when giving guidance to ethically concerned consumers. This could lead to changes in labelling or products from approved lists being removed.

The food miles dilemma is heightened by the fact that the Government has itself set a target of reducing all food imports to 30 per cent by 2010. One analysis of a basket of 26 imported organic items found they had travelled the equivalent of six times around the equator.

Although imports of organic food have steadily fallen over the past few years, they remained static at 56 per cent in 2003-04. A fifth of all organic meat in the UK is imported.

According to Soil Association figures, sales of organic produce grew by 10 per cent last year to £1.2bn, but the supermarket share dropped by 1 per cent for the second year running while sales through box schemes and farmers markets have increased by 16 per cent.

Keith Abel, of the London-based organic delivery scheme Abel and Cole, which has a strict "no airfreight" policy, said he found the sale by supermarkets of such produce offensive. He said: "I think the [Soil Association] should implement a no air-freight policy but they are nervous about offending supermarkets who frankly don't care where their produce comes from as long as it sells.''

Sustain, which campaigns for ethical farming, warns that as road freight increases and people drive further to shop in supermarkets, it is even more important to reduce the food miles of what consumers buy.

Patrick Holden, the director of the Soil Association, said: "We do not take into account how far food has travelled, but we might well do in the future.''

Dawn Bache, of the MCS, said: "The issue of food miles is something we will be considering to make sure that consumers are fully informed.''

FOOD FROM AFAR AND HOME-GROWN ALTERNATIVES

Organic green beans (Kenya) £1.09/160g. Food miles: 4,200. Flown from Africa. Being organic, free from pesticides and preservatives; or ...

Green beans (UK) Cost: £1.49/500g. Food miles 200? Farmed in Britain, but since supermarkets tend to buy centrally, will have racked up road miles. But non-organic and since they are seasonal, not always available.

Alaskan salmon Cost: £18.99/kg. Food miles: 4,400. Fished in the clear waters of the northern Pacific in a sustainable fishery; or ...

Scottish farmed salmon Cost: £6.90/kg. Food miles 350. Scottish fish farms have earned a reputation for pollution and damage to shellfish. And the taste is nowhere near as good.

Organic baby sweetcorn (Thailand) Cost: 99p/125g. Food miles: 8,000. Some say they are tasteless, but if your children like them, any vegetable is better than none; or ...

Corn on the cob (UK) Cost: £1.28 for two. Food miles: varies. Only available for a short summer season.

New Zealand hoki Cost: £1.49 for 10 fish fingers. Food miles: 14,000. Some argue the fishery cannot be sustained because hoki is a slow-growing fish; or ...

Monkfish Cost: £18.99/kg. Food miles: 300. There is increasing evidence the species has been overfished.

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