Is ecological food really so if it travels 7000 km?

Kilometric food: the social and ecological cost of the global food market


The products imported by Spain must travel an average of 3,000 kilometers to reach from producer to consumer.

The global food system based on large tracts of monoculture involves the emission of millions of tons of CO2 for transport.

“It has been so globalized food chain that those who govern are the large multinational corporations” warns Professor Manuel Delgado Cabeza.

Chickpeas travel an average of 7,500 kilometers to reach our borders.

Chickpeas Mexico, France sausages, apples or coffee Uruguay Vietnam. These are just some of the foods known as Kilometer. Those that travel long distances before reaching the table. Spain imported in 2011 more than 25.4 million tons of food that traveled 3,827 kilometers on average, as calculated by the organization Friends of the Earth.

There are particularly acute cases such as chickpeas, whose average distance between the farmer who produced and the consumer who acquired them in a supermarket is 7,500 km. A transoceanic trip for a product that has nearly thirty centuries cultivated locally.

The result of all this are imports 4.2 million tonnes of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere: a considerable contribution of greenhouse gas responsible for global warming and therefore climate change.
A new food system

Manuel Delgado Cabeza, Professor of Economics at the University of Seville and coauthor of the report Traveling Food: How many kilometers food travels before it reaches your plate?, warns that the phenomenon of the kilometric food is the result of the current organization of the system agrifood.

According to the report, the beginning of this new food order took place in the 60s of the twentieth century with the advent of the Green Revolution. It was a process based on increasing agricultural production through large tracts of monoculture. “The superspecialization of productive territories to generate efficiency has led to a brutal disconnect between food production and consumption,” added Delgado.

Friends of the Earth also points to the “relatively low price” on oil and liberalization of agricultural markets promoted by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the factors causing “an agricultural model and food production that intensifies the climate crisis, as well as food and ecologically speaking. ”

Precarious work

Why a food that travels thousands of kilometers costs less than a local one? Esther Vivas, activist and author of several books on responsible consumption, attributes these prices to the relocation of agricultural production which seeks to “take advantage of poor working conditions, a very flexible environmental legislation and prices very low production, then to sell the products here at a competitive price. ”

The result of this process is the destruction of the local agricultural fabric producing countries. For example, in Mexico the average salary of a farmer who produces the beans that come to our table does not reach euro per hour worked, according to the National Statistics Institute of Mexico (INEGI) in 2015.

Soy is another product that generates greater social impact on both sides of the Atlantic. Produced mainly in the countries of Mercosur, soybean travel thousands of kilometers to be fed to cattle from northern countries. The journey causes whole communities are forced to leave their territories in the southern countries. Meanwhile, the consequences also reach farmers in the north whose income and quality of life depend on a product that is produced abroad and whose price is decided in the bag, “says White Ruibal, head of the Department of Agriculture and Food for Friends from the earth.

Cocoa farmers in countries like Ivory Coast or Ghana, where 59% of the global total cultivated are also victims of the export and import processes that move this product to countries like Spain, which is the eighth in the list of importers of food.
According to the latest monograph of the State Coordinator of Fair Trade, farmers barely earn between 3% and 6% of the final price of chocolate bars based on their cocoa. The Coordinator also warned of the precarious situation of small producers “who rarely taste the chocolate is made with cocoa harvesting with his hands in particularly harsh conditions, and whose sale generates a paltry incomes that place them well below the poverty “.

Food travelers from south to north and from north to south

Esther Vivas warns that there is another reality, that of the kilometric food traveling from north to south as a result of the agricultural policies of the northern countries, “the logic of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) or the Farm Bill, the equivalent in the US, is to subsidize certain products regardless of demand there for them. This leads to a food surplus overproduction which ends up selling in the southern countries at cost price. ” This process occurs with products such as milk or cereals, heavily subsidized in the northern countries, who have just sold to countries in the periphery leading to the disappearance of small local farmer.

Environmental consequences

A kilo of fruit kilometer-long journey to our borders is an average emission of 0.25 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere and that you do a kilo of fish increases the share issue 0.52%.

“Industrial agriculture is today one of the main factors of the problem of climate change” adds Ruibal. His organization argues that the global agri-food model is responsible for a large part of climate change.

Health consequences

And I would add that this system also needs:

  1. to pick fruit and vegetables while still green
  2. plants with genetic changes to withstand travel, such as tougher skin (and therefore more indigestible)
  3. addition of chemicals used in preventing bacteria and fungi that could be produced by stacking tons of fruit without ventilation or light.

What can I do? I can eat local vegetables, know your farmer. The Slow Food organization puts a limit on 250 km. What is your limit to local food?

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