Blog: Dean BestAir-freighted organics - to ban or not to ban?

Dean Best | 24 October 2007

As you read this, the Soil Association, the monitoring body for organic food in the UK, is revealing the results of its study into the environmental impact of air-freighted goods.

Back in May, the Soil Association hinted that it could move to strip organic status from goods flown into the UK, in a bid to combat the food industry’s impact on climate change.

The debate over just how much the distribution of food contributes to global warming is a fierce one and is showing no sign of reaching a settlement. Some argue that buying local food would reduce the carbon emissions from food manufacturing and distribution. And the concept of “food miles” – however misguided – seems to resonate strongly with UK consumers.

Others believe that any push to buy local food is merely a new form of old-fashioned protectionism that would threaten the livelihoods of those in the developing world who rely on Western markets to survive.

This morning (24 October) in central London, the Soil Association will unveil its plans, which have caused much speculation and filled many column inches here in the UK. (The association has slapped a press embargo on its plans, which means we won’t be able to tell you anything until tomorrow morning).

But don’t be fooled that this is just an issue for the UK. This is a complex issue and the Soil Association’s plans have global ramifications.

For some, working out just how much food distribution hurts the environment is as clear as mud. Simon Wright, a consultant to the organic food industry, told the Healthy Foods European Summit in London yesterday that he had a clearer stance on the issue a year ago – but that further probing had muddied the waters for him.

“It’s a horrifically complicated situation. Air transport may play a minor role but, at the end of the day, consumers take it seriously, so it’s of huge importance to us.”

And the Soil Association’s plans are of huge importance to what is a booming sector in the food industry. We await with baited breath…


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