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Eating local - not a panacea (but a good start)

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lambs A recent NY Times op-ed pointed out that "eating local" doesn't necessarily yield the smallest carbon footprint. The piece was based on a recent study comparing the carbon footprint of lambs raised in New Zealand to those in Great Britain. The conclusion of the peer-reviewed study was that for UK consumers, the carbon footprint of New Zealand lamb was actually four times lower than British lamb, despite the fact that the NZ lamb must be shipped halfway around the world. The reason has to do with the less favorable climate and growing conditions in GB, which requires farmers to use feed. Similar figures were found for other produce and fruit. The gist of the study is that shipping distance is only one component of the carbon footprint of food. Other factors such as the use of fertilizer, feed, water, and pesticides may be equally or more important. Labeling food with "food miles", as proposed in the European Union, may give consumers misleading information as to the carbon footprint of different foods. A better solution is to use lifecycle analysis and perhaps develop some kind of scoring system. From a practical standpoint, global food networks are not going away. We are always going to want "exotic" spices and food that can't be grown locally. Many areas are simply too arid to be completely self-sufficient. Therefore, we should continue to encourage the growth of local food markets while striving to make our transportation systems more sustainable by increasing efficiencies and using alternative fuels.