Thursday, January 25, 2007

How Much Did Your Bag of Groceries Really Cost?

With a h/t to AmericaBlog there is an interesting article in the Guardian today that links back to a post the other day by Steve Bates at YDD. Do you know the "carbon footprint" or the complete environmental impact of the food you eat?

Tough question, but Tesco in the UK is giving almost $10 million to Oxford to figure it out so they can include such data on food labels.
In principle, the concept is easy. A so-called "life-cycle analysis" tots up the energy used to extract raw materials and turn them into products. The greater the energy use, the greater the carbon footprint, and the worse for the environment a product is. Tesco says such information would allow consumers to shop according to their environmental conscience. As demand for more damaging products falls, the thinking goes, so will the stocking of that product. The supermarket is not alone in coveting carbon labels: Duchy Originals, the food company set up by Prince Charles, is among those investigating similar schemes.

The problems start in deciding exactly what emissions should be counted. Direct carbon use is easy to measure, but indirect emissions are far more difficult. Should supermarkets include the electricity used to refrigerate products in their stores? What about the fuel in the tractors on a farm thousands of miles away? And if you think the answer is obvious, what about the fuel in the cars the farmworkers drive to get to work? "Boundaries are hugely difficult and, of course, the boundaries may not be in this country," says Dr Boardman. Some experts even argue the audited supply chain should extend as far as the ultimate source of energy - the sun.
I have been discussing this with our visitors from the UK and it is getting to be a hot topic over there as they are struggling with how to improve food labeling. You see this kind of article in the UK and European news but not a peep in the American press. Why is that? One would think that with the US leaving the largest carbon footprint of any other nation we would be keen to address this kind of thing.

I don't imagine it has anything to do about corporate ownership of the media does it? For those of you who aren't familiar with the UK, Tesco is probably the largest grocery chain there followed closely by Sainsbury (or vice versa). Somehow I don't see Kroger, Publix or one of the other big US chains spending this kind of money on something like this and Goddess forbid the Bush bunch suggesting such a thing as a knowledgeable consumer. The last thing they appear to want is for the American public to be able to make informed decisions.

The next time you take a run down the grocery aisle think about how much energy, from beginning to end, goes into getting that dinner on the table. When you make the choice of frozen vegetables over fresh think about all the energy consumed in keeping it frozen from manufacturing through transport and then while it waits in the store and your freezer at home for you to thaw it and consume it.

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