Although I’m only about two months late in reporting it, The Economist has done it again with a wonderful piece on buying “Fairtrade”, “ethically sourced” and “local” foods.
The main premise of the article is:
The aims of much of the ethical-food movement – to protect the environment, to encourage development and to redress the distortions in global trade – are admirable. The problems lie in the means, not the ends. No amount of Fairtrade coffee will eliminate poverty, and all the organic asparagus in the world will not save the planet. Some of the stuff sold under an ethical label may even leave the world in a worse state and its poor farmers poorer than they otherwise would be.
If farmers aren’t getting enough for their produce, then it’s mainly due to oversupply – they shouldn’t be artificially encouraged to produce it by being paid more – and by paying more, well meaning Westerners are actually subsidising their retailer rather than the farmers in any case.
If goods are being transported by truck in a piecemeal fashion from small farm to small retailer – then what impact do those logistical “food miles” have on global warming? Large supermarkets have the most efficient and environmentally friendly means of transporting goods (ie: in a large scale, in large semi-trailers, in large warehouses, to large retail outlets). These large scale deployments seek to lower cost, thereby lowering the energy usage and environmentakl footprint.