The food distribution or supply chain of food determines the price of food and the revenue attained by the many parties that form the supply chain. Not every party receives an equally large percentage of the final price demanded by the consumer (which includes the last link). Moreover, parties that need to perform more work are often a more significant portion of the revenue than the others (especially the traders who attain a higher income).

Makeup of the agricultural supply chain[edit | edit source]

  • Producers (farmers)
  • Processors and manufacturers
  • Retailers and exporters
  • Consumers

Disavantages of long supply chains[edit | edit source]

Substantial climate-disrupting carbon emissionsW, boosted by the transport of food over long distances, are of growing concern as the world faces such global crisisW as natural resource depletion, peak oil and climate change.[1] “The average American meal currently costs about 1500 miles, and takes about ten caloriesW of oil and other fossil fuels to produce a single calorie of food.” [2] Buying food from local farmers reduces the distance the food has to travel and reduces carbon offsets.

Another disadvantage of centralized (large-scale) food distribution systems is that the middlemen increasingly decide quality control. In contrast, a local food system redevelops these relationships and encourages a return of quality control to the consumer and the producer, respectively. These quality characteristics are not only in the product but also in the production method.[3]

Reducing the number of links in the chain[edit | edit source]

Besides the environmental advantages, reducing the distance by producing the food locally also allows economic benefits for the people in the supply chain. The longer the distance that needs to be traveled, the longer the chain, and the less revenue can be made by each party. This can be done as fewer retailers and importers/exporters are needed. This, as the price of a specific product, is often legally bound not to exceed a particular value (this is especially true for prices of staple crops...). More significant revenue can be attained by the people who do the most work (i.e., farmers, processors). In addition, systems could potentially be made that fix the revenue attained from the consumer to a fairer percentage, in line with the needed work.

Global food transport[edit | edit source]

Because we can transport food relatively quickly, a variety of food is available to the consumer that would not be available to consumers if they were to rely only upon locally produced food. We can eat soybeans from china, avocado from southern America, and sugar from Hawaii. These are only a few examples of what is available to us due to modern technology. Many plants can only grow in a particular region of the globe, but because of the speed at which we can transport things, we can eat things that would have gone bad had they been transferred by hand or other means.

Local food production[edit | edit source]

Local food production is part of the concept of local purchasingW and local economiesW, a preference to buy locally produced goods and services. Those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food sometimes call themselves "localvores" or locavores.[4]

The local or regional food movement is a "collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies - one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place"[5] and is considered to be a part of the broader sustainabilityW movement.

Although plants are best grown in their native region, plants can also be grown in regions where they are not native, yet where the climate is similar to the region, they originally came from. The soil can also contain similar amounts of plant nutrients to thrive in this new location. In addition, in the event the plant does not yet thrive as well as we like, there are measures around this. For example, because we can genetically modify food, we can also grow food in regions that would otherwise not be able to produce certain varieties of food. We can make plants more resistant to cold and drought, which allows us to grow food in colder and drier regions. Conventional methods will enable us to preserve food longer and put food to more uses.

There has been considerable debate about where farms are best located. Many environmentalists advocate urban developments with high population density to preserve agricultural land and maximize energy efficiency. However, others have theorized that sustainable ecocities, or ecovillages which combine habitation and farming with proximity between producers and consumers, may provide greater sustainability.

The use of available city space (e.g., rooftop gardensW, community gardens, garden sharingW, and other forms of urban agriculture for cooperative food production is another way to achieve greater sustainability.

One of the latest ideas in achieving sustainable agriculture involves shifting the production of food plants from primary factory farming operations to large, urban, technical facilities called vertical farms. The advantages of vertical farming include year-round production, isolation from pests and diseases, controllable resource recycling, and on-site production that reduces transportation costs. While a vertical farm has yet to become a reality, the idea is gaining momentum among those who believe that current sustainable farming methods will be insufficient to provide for a growing global population.[6]

Local versus global food production[edit | edit source]

Critics of the local food movement point out that food transport is only one component that makes up the carbon footprint. According to a study by engineers Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon UniversityW, of all the greenhouse gases emitted by the food industry, only 4% comes from transporting the food from producers to retailers. The study also concluded that adopting a ecologic diet (i.e. vegetarianW diet, ...), even if the vegetarian food is transported over very long distances, does far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, than does eating a locally grown diet that, i.e., still includes meat.[7]

In addition to this, we need to remember that besides the distance of transport for the food, other factors influence the total environmental impact of food production and consumption[8] [9]. Some major things are:

  • using what vehicle has the food been transported this distance? I.e., transport by ship is often the cleanest way to transport food[10], followed by airplane [11]and then truck[12]. This assumes vehicles with regular fuels/drivetrains (i.e., fossil fuels, regular IC engines); if other fuels/drivetrains are used, the carbon footprints/100 km can differ significantly.
  • how the food has been produced (i.e., small-scale/industrial, organic, or conventional food production) and what type of energy (renewable/non-renewable) is used in its production?
  • how well was the vehicle loaded (was the food compressed, was all space in the vehicle used, what packing was used, ...)?

For example:

  • it is likely to be more environmentally friendly for tomatoes to be grown in Spain and transported to the UK than for the same tomatoes to be produced in greenhouses in the UK requiring energy to heat them. Solutions to this (which still involve using tomatoes -a non-native crop which requires a lot of heat-) could include using renewable energy sources such a solar, geothermal, or wind, and/or growing seasonal crops in the greenhouses (i.e., growing crops that require little heat in the spring/fall/winter, such as cabbage, lettuce/col).

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Heinberg, Richard. Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World. Canada: New Society Publishers, 2004.
  2. Astyk, Sharon. Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front. Canada: New Society Publishers, 2008.
  3. Sonnino, R. & Marsden, T. (2006) Beyond the Divide: rethinking relationships between alternative and conventional food networks in Europe. Economic Journal of Geography. pp. 181-199.
  4. Roosevelt, M. (2006) The Lure of the 100-Mile Diet. Time Magazine. Sunday, June 11, 2006. Accessed at http://web.archive.org/web/20130826152047/http://www.time.com:80/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1200783,00.html on Nov 1, 2007 at 10:35 am PDT).
  5. Feenstra, G. (2002) Creating space for sustainable food systems: lessons from the field. Agriculture and Human Values. 19(2). 99-106.
  6. Vertical Farming
  7. Food miles are less critical to the environment than food choices, the study concludes, Jane Liaw, unique to mongabay.com, June 2, 2008]
  8. Food Miles: Comparative Energy/Emissions Performance of New Zealand’s Agriculture Industry
  9. Food That Travels Well, The New York Times, August 6, 2007
  10. ? kg CO²/100 km
  11. ? kg CO²/100 km
  12. ? kg CO²/100 km