Mike Berners-Lee’s view: ‘There is no case for air-freighted food in the 21st century. Economies need to be powered by people doing things that are useful. Anything else is unsustainable nonsense. And it’s amazing how often exports involve selling their (much needed) water which is embodied in, for example, avocados, fine beans and cotton’.
We also wonder if most of the air-freighted produce is produced not by small independent family farms but by large companies. And we have not noticed any of the vegetables labelled as Fairtrade.
A: To quote from Greenpeace’s campaign:- Vast areas of South America – precious forests and other ecosystems – have been wiped out to make way for soya plantations… Chicken is the most popular meat in the UK, it’s our biggest driver of soya imports and its consumption is rising. To read more about this campaign click here or to watch a Greenpeace cartoon on this subject click Monster in my Kitchen
Only 6% of Soya is eaten directly by humans. The vast majority of global production is fed to livestock – some to cattle but pigs and chickens are the biggest consumers.
Ethical Consumer magazine says: Soya is Brazil’s biggest export by value, and there have long been serious concerns about the extent to which it is behind deforestation There has been a ‘soya moratorium’ in place in Brazil since 2006. The companies who buy the soya agreed not to buy any grown on recently deforested land, and to blacklist farmers known to be using slave labour. Verification is done with satellite data. It appears to have been successful at preventing soya being grown on freshly deforested land in the Amazon. But many people have argued that the soya is simply being put on the older deforested land which was previously being used for cattle, while the cattle are pushed into the forest frontier.
Ideally there would be transparent supply chains so that soya grown unsustainably could be identified. There are initiatives such as the Round Table for Responsible Soy but the big problem with these schemes is that they suffer from the same issue as the moratorium: because they are piecemeal, they can just cause things to be shifted around. However, they may well be better than nothing.
The atmosphere which surrounds the fruit is controlled. It’s know as MAP – Modified Atmosphere Packaging. The composition of the gas depends on the product but it is often a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. Whether the amount of carbon dioxide released is significant in the larger scheme of things we don’t know. We unable to uncover much more about this practice but the Speciality Gas Market Manager for Praxair says:-
The gas for MAP processes needs to be carefully selected to meet the process needs of the foods to be preserved. An experienced supplier can help you choose the right gas blend for your product and process, determine the amount needed per package and can guide you regarding surrounding considerations as you choose the appropriate gas supply and gas delivery system that will help you be successful in your food preservation and protection processes.
And a Guardian article from 2003 says:-
Despite the appearance of near perfection in imported fresh fruit and vegetables, new research has found that the further they have travelled, the more their vitamin and mineral content deteriorates. Local or sometimes frozen food are more likely to have preserved their goodness.
A difficult balance to strike but we would say always avoid the air-freight.
In May 2007 Joanna Blythman of the Independent discussed the issue…
But hang on a moment. When I pick up a carton of organic Chilean blueberries, Argentinian blackberries, or Zambian sugarsnap peas, all air-freighted from their countries of origin, my carefully constructed rationale for buying organic is shot full of holes.
No air-freighted cherry, avocado, or pineapple can ever be considered as a green, or environmentally aware food choice, but the dissonance between the words “organic” and “air-freighted” is particularly stark. A growing number of consumers, having taken on board many elements of the pro-organic argument, now expect to be able to buy – in organic form- every line that’s available on the conventional produce shelves. But since demand for organic food outstrips supply, many more organic lines are likely to have been flown in. Try to buy organic asparagus today, and the chances are it that has been air-freighted from Peru. If the environment matters to you, then surely it is lunacy to overlook generous bunches of conventional British, or even road-freighted Spanish asparagus, for a few air-freighted organic Peruvian stems ?
It’s a good point and probably the most important choice you can make for yourself personally. Here’s Public Health England’s Eat-Well Chart
We don’t address it in detail, partly because there is by no means unanimous agreement on what constitutes a healthy diet. But fortunately what’s good for the planet – less meat and dairy, more veg, fruit, nuts & seeds – is pretty widely recognised as good for your health.
Rather than thinking in terms of what not to eat, which does indeed sound pretty miserable and puritanical, instead try eating more and different kinds of fresh vegetables and fruit. If you get most of your protein from meat, cheese, eggs, and milk, the chances are that you’re probably not indulging in many of the tasty, exciting (and indeed healthy) dishes that can be made from more climate-friendly vegetables, beans, nuts, pulses, lentils, and soya.
Try experimenting just once or twice a week with a meal that doesn’t have meat, fish or dairy and where vegetables are the star of the meal rather than just something on the side. As the TV chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says in the introduction to his cookbook Much More Veg, “The more lovely fresh veg we eat – both in quantity and variety – the less space there is in our diets for other foods which are, shall we say, of more questionable value … And if we eat more veg, we can also eat less meat and fish – or none at all, if we choose.” If you’re minded, you could do worse than invest in this book, which is packed full of easy, tasty, and nutritious recipes where the vegetable is the star of the show.