India Uncut

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Ethical food ain't so ethical after all

No, no, this post is not going to be about how the so-called virtuous apple is a nympho or the sanctimonious banana is actually a serial killer. Instead, I'm talking about "organic food, Fairtrade food and local food," which the Economist describes as "three of the most popular varieties of 'ethical' food." As it explains in a superb leader (subs. link), they aren't quite so ethical after all. Take organic food, for example:
Organic food, which is grown without man-made pesticides and fertilisers, is generally assumed to be more environmentally friendly than conventional intensive farming, which is heavily reliant on chemical inputs. But it all depends what you mean by “environmentally friendly”. Farming is inherently bad for the environment: since humans took it up around 11,000 years ago, the result has been deforestation on a massive scale. But following the “green revolution” of the 1960s greater use of chemical fertiliser has tripled grain yields with very little increase in the area of land under cultivation. Organic methods, which rely on crop rotation, manure and compost in place of fertiliser, are far less intensive. So producing the world's current agricultural output organically would require several times as much land as is currently cultivated. There wouldn't be much room left for the rainforest.
Fairtrade food is similarly counterproductive, and may actually end up harming the farmers they're supposed to help. and 'local food' may end up consuming more "'food miles' and, by extension, carbon emissions" than non-local food. (For example, the piece tells us that "[p]roducing lamb in New Zealand and shipping it to Britain uses less energy than producing British lamb, because farming in New Zealand is less energy-intensive.")

Got that? So the next time you consume organic food, plant a patch of rainforest in your balcony to compensate. And don't have British lamb.
amit varma, 4:52 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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