Friday, February 19, 2010

US Truck Lobby Group Say Food Miles - Fact or Myth ?

ATA Conference Hear the Arguments for Supermarket Style Deliveries
Shipping News Feature

US – Everyone it seems is taking up the challenge of seeking out locally sourced foodstuffs. It is politically correct and “green” to do so – or is it? Next week the audience at the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference (AFTC) of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) will hear arguments from Roger A. Cady, Ph.D., Senior Technical Consultant at Elanco to suggest that groceries sourced elsewhere and following a well planned supply chain can be more environmentally friendly than those found in a farmers market or local store.

Now to make it plain about who is putting this argument Elanco is in turn a subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Company, one of the biggest pharmaceutical operations on the planet and who have a keen eye on animal health and farming products, not opposed to mass production which tends towards more use of such product you may say. Cady is a co author of “Demystifying the Environmental Sustainability of Food Production,” which suggests that buying food from grocery retailers who are part of the modern transportation network is more energy efficient and environmentally beneficial than buying from local sources.

The audience for the conference will consist of ATA members who obviously have an interest in truck freight and the distances the produce travels. The points raised however are no doubt worthy of discussion. The report explains that linear travel miles are not indicative of total energy use and therefore not necessarily a valid measure of the environmental impact of moving food over long distances. Instead of total miles travelled, the report states that the energy use per unit of food moved paints a more accurate picture of overall energy use.

The report found that a modern refrigerated tractor-trailer uses the least amount of fuel per dozen eggs while en route to a grocery store, even if the eggs travel hundreds more miles than would eggs travelling from a local farm to a farmers market or to the consumer’s home. It claims its research indicates fuel consumption per dozen eggs purchased from a farmers market is more than eight times the amount used by tractor-trailer. Obviously a consumer travelling to a local poultry farm is even less fuel-efficient.

There is no doubt that rigs hauling large payloads across countries the size of the United States can prove surprisingly efficient in terms of food miles but the report is selective in the areas it examines and despite its intelligent conclusion that “food should be grown where the agricultural resources and capacity are most suited to efficient food production,” rather than close to population centres, it will be a long hard argument to convince consumers who have a media induced view of how to save the planet.

The presentation will take place at the ATA’s Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference (AFTC) at The Westin Arlington Gateway hotel in Arlington, Virginia, on Monday, Feb. 22, at 11:15 a.m.