Sunday, October 28, 2007

The greenhouse gases your food produces

Ok, so it's not that your food per se produces greenhouse gases, it's more that within food production (the entire life cycle) greenhouse gases are produced. "Food footprints coming soon to a label near you" by Fiona Harvey, Financial Times.

I think it's really great and still frustrating that once again the UK and/or EU is so far ahead of the US. I guess it's true that if you come from a place with limited natural resources like the EU vs. US you (aka Europeans) are more aware of the end of those resources and more protective of making them last longer. One of my grad school groups came up with this idea of eco-aware labels for food and non-food products. We argued our way out of it as something to present to class because of the lack of a central, respected body that would come up with the baseline that all products, companies, methods would be measured against. To keep track of what was produced in terms of CO2 from each farmer, chemist, company, factory, printer, packer, shipper, store, rubbish/garbage removal. Not to mention any of the byproducts, waste, energy, etc to make each phase of the lifecycle happen... It all seemed too daunting a challenge for us to think through and still have a solution at the end that came up with a reputable and meaningful label to inform consumers. And then, after all of that, would it make a meaningful difference to a consumer's decision to buy one product vs. another -- or just another way for a company to create a marketable advantage and yet something else that can be manipulated for profit sans principle.

It seemed to us too difficult and unsupported back in 2004, maybe the world really is changing...

Segments I liked in the article:
"Companies have to scrutinise factors such as their electricity usage, their transport, heating, their use of materials, and any greenhouse gases produced by chemical processes in their manufacturing."

"...BSI British Standards to develop a single standard to measure the 'embodied' greenhouse gas emissions from products and services, which should make it easier for other companies to apply the same methods."

Furthering my point, in the article "Food chain is complex" by Sarah Murray, Financial Times (of course) explains that, "'Establishing one standard, credible way of measuring a product's carbon content will empower consumers to make informed decisions as well as driving businesses to invest in lowering the carbon content of their products,' said Tom Delay, the Carbon Trust's chief executive."

This is true, and then the article touches on another point we came across in 2004, "At the same time, agriculture is responsible for pollution in the form of run-off of chemical fertilisers. Since less than half the nitrogen applies to crops in fertiliser is actually use, the rest leaches into soil and rivers... But there are tough trade-offs for farmers..."

Developing and implementing (and then keeping to) sustainable practices in agriculture is a far bigger deal than what may amount to cursory involvement in food packaging labels. It's a start which I can support. I support the change in opinions based on what's really happening, the whole way through, and getting back to what our ancestors knew. They knew the food they consumed because they made it, they knew all about it and where it all came from and experienced. We should to. What's difficult, and nearly impossible without some international, standardized system (and who wants that?), is being able to keep track. Knowing all the direct and indirect details is probably futile, and it's not what's important to a consumer. What's important now is changing buying behaviors so that what is supported is "good" on as many levels as possible.

The common man/woman may only care insofar as it is affecting him/her directly. Make it personal and someone will care. Adam Werbach is totally right, and I don't care if he is working directly, indirectly or not at all with Wal-Mart. He's right, he's right, he's right!

(I love it when someone in a significant position says something I've thought for years. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. )

No comments: