Organic farming offers solutions to the current food miles debate. Not only that, but it leads the way in low energy farming, and will help New Zealand reach its carbon neutral targets, according to the Soil & Health Association.
“Consumers are rightly becoming concerned about ‘food miles’, because the fossil fuel used in transporting food contributes to climate change through CO2 emissions,” says Soil and Health spokesperson, Steffan Browning. “However, New Zealand and overseas reports all show that organic production uses much less energy than conventional farming.”
Other bonuses are that organic production is the preferred consumer choice, it increases carbon sequestration and has much lower externalised environmental costs.
The Lincoln University report, Food Miles – Comparative Energy/Emissions Performance of New Zealand’s Agriculture Industry, by Saunders, Barber and Taylor, argues that with food miles, it is not just the distance that should be assessed but the total energy used, from production to plate, including transport.
The report, released in July, shows that New Zealand products use less energy, and have lower emissions per tonne of product delivered to the UK, than UK products do. It quotes a report by Defra (UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs): “…it can be more sustainable to import organic food into the UK than to grow non-organic food in the UK.”
The Lincoln report quotes Swedish research over 23 dairy farms, “…. these tests showed that the total energy use of organic dairy farms per unit of production was significantly less than each of the two conventional types of farms, …. A similar picture emerged for CO2 emissions.”
Soil & Health noted from the Lincoln report, that environmental costs of current farming systems when added to consumer prices are about 4 times that of the organic equivalent cost.
The Lincoln report also quoted a list of strategies for the consumer to avoid food miles when making purchases, provided by the UK Women’s Environmental Network. Their top five most ethical choices are (in order):
1. Organic, local and seasonal
3. Fairtrade and organic
The Soil & Health Association of NZ shares these principles as part of its Organic 2020 vision, but can see a place for sustainably produced organic goods from New Zealand being efficiently shipped to complement shortfalls in local British product.
While the Lincoln study did not consider carbon sequestration, American studies show that organic methods are far more effective than conventional methods at taking CO2 from the atmosphere and fixing it as beneficial organic matter in the soil. The 23-year Rodale Institute study calculated that if 10,000 mid sized U.S. farms converted to organic production, it would be equivalent to taking 1,174,400 cars off the road, or not driving 14.62 billion miles.
Former British Environment Minister Michael Meacher told a 2004 Soil Association conference in Edinburgh, that the government must boost organics to help Britain meet its Kyoto targets. He also highlighted the Rodale Institute research, which also found that soluble nitrogen fertilisers in conventional farming destroyed soil biota that trap greenhouse gases.
The Soil & Health Association of NZ sees continued government support for the organic sector as an important solution to food miles arguments, and to the Prime Minister’s aim of a truly sustainable New Zealand.