The concept of "food-miles" is showing up everywhere (that is, if you are a super-environmentally conscious eater.) It is the number of miles the food has traveled from its production site to your mouth, and, obviously, travel of any kind involves production of greenhouse gases, which is BAD. So eat locally, goes the mantra.
But it's not that easy. As this article in the Guardian points out, roses grown in Kenya in sunlight have a smaller carbon footprint, including air-shipping to Britain, than Dutch-grown roses which unfold in an artificially lighted and heated greenhouse. So which do you buy? Similar arguments can be made for food, wine and practically anything else when you are comparing one item grown in more naturally occurring environment (typically in developing countries,) with the other that uses quantities of fuel in some form or another in its growth pattern.
Apparently there;s an argument raging between the (only in Britain) charmingly named organizations, "The Co-operative group" and the "Soil Association." The former is more science based, and objects to the latter's wanting to include food-miles into the labeling of organic foodstuffs.
The dispute arose when the Soil Association proposed changing its labelling system to include food miles after coming under pressure from stakeholders increasingly worried about the amount of CO2 pollution coming from aviation.
The Soil Association insists that it is not trying to ban air-freighted produce completely but might change its regulations so that organic produce can only be air-freighted if it also meets the Soil Association's own ethical trade or the Fairtrade Foundation standards.
This is not good enough for the Co-op. Laura Vickery, social reporting manager at the Co-op, said in a letter to Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association: "We consider that focusing on air freight is a very poor proxy for the environmental impact of a product, and also does not adequately deal with other social and/or economic consequences of disincentivising air freight, particularly for producers in the developing world.
"We believe it doesn't make sense at the most fundamental level for the Soil Association to focus on air freight, when the environmental impact of meat and dairy products and use of forced heating in glasshouses [which the Soil Association acknowledges incur high carbon footprints] are not subject to an equivalent level of scrutiny and public discussion."
And then there's the ethical issues. How if you had to choose between sunlight-flooded, naturally fertilized crops from a farm in Tanzania which is harvested by 12-year-old children vs. California-grown, pesticide-laden equivalent that is harvested by Mexican illegals?
I'll take a glass of French wine, Bordeaux if you please while I ponder on this dilemma.