Consumers should pay more attention to the real cost of food

Share
Related Topics

As the world's networks in the trade of food grow ever more sophisticated and the damaging effects of this trade on our environment become clearer, it is increasingly difficult for thoughtful shoppers to make ethical choices. Take fish, for example. The Marine Stewardship Council has given Pacific cod its seal of approval because it comes from a sustainable stock. A British shopper, mindful of the state of endangered fish stocks, should, in theory, seek out the Pacific brand. The trouble is that Pacific cod is air-freighted to Britain and harmful carbon emissions will have been produced to get it here. How is the ethical shopper to decide between the twin evils of air pollution on the one hand and over-fishing on the other?

As the world's networks in the trade of food grow ever more sophisticated and the damaging effects of this trade on our environment become clearer, it is increasingly difficult for thoughtful shoppers to make ethical choices. Take fish, for example. The Marine Stewardship Council has given Pacific cod its seal of approval because it comes from a sustainable stock. A British shopper, mindful of the state of endangered fish stocks, should, in theory, seek out the Pacific brand. The trouble is that Pacific cod is air-freighted to Britain and harmful carbon emissions will have been produced to get it here. How is the ethical shopper to decide between the twin evils of air pollution on the one hand and over-fishing on the other?

And then there is the dilemma faced by those who want to support local farmers, but who also feel a sense of duty towards producers in the developing world. Should the shopper choose green beans from the nearby farmers' market or green beans from Kenya available in the supermarket? The Kenyan beans may have accumulated hundreds of environmentally damaging "food miles", but to boycott produce from this part of the world would be to cut one of Africa's economic lifelines.

It is important, first of all, to acknowledge that much of the cost of transporting food huge distances by plane is hidden. For every calorie of carrot flown from South Africa to Europe, 66 calories are spent in fuel. The reason why imported vegetables are often still cheaper than local produce is because airline fuel goes untaxed. This may work out to the shopper's immediate advantage, but the emissions pumped out in each flight do grave damage to our environment. It is not sustainable.

The second thing to bear in mind is that there are often irrationalities in the way food retailers - particularly the larger supermarkets - function. Food that could come from local farmers, just as cheaply as imports, is often neglected. American raspberries, for example, are usually on sale in Britain at the height of our raspberry season.

The solution is not, as some have argued, to force supermarkets to stock only local produce. The free market has served Britain's shoppers fantastically well. The fact that today we have access to a range of products that would have been incredible to shoppers 50 years ago ought to be a source of pride. Nor is the solution to ban the import of products from the poor and distant countries of Africa. On the contrary, we should dismantle the Common Agricultural Policy and establish a fair trading system with those nations.

What is required is for supermarkets, shops and even restaurants to give us much more information about where the food they are selling has come from. Then shoppers can make up their own mind about what would be the most ethical purchase. The boom in demand for organic produce in recent years has shown that the public cares deeply about the environmental impact of the way our food is produced. The natural next step for the ethical consumer is to pay close attention to exactly what it takes to get the food "from plough to plate".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam