DEFRA study highlights challenges of “sustainable consumption”

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Eco-conscious consumers may believe that by shopping locally and buying organic food, they are minimising the effect of their consumption on the environment - but a report produced by Manchester Business School for DEFRA (Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs), concludes that this may not be the case.

The report - 'The Environmental Impact of Food Production and Consumption' - considers the environmental consequences of food production from “the farm to the fork”.

Report findings include:

the environmental benefits of organic food production are not clear-cut
there is no clear evidence in environmental terms to support locally-sourced rather than globally-sourced shopping. For some foods, global sourcing might be a better option for the environment;
the impact of car-based shopping by individual consumers is greater than the impact of transport within the food production distribution system
the impact of packaging on food is difficult to quantify because the disposal of that packaging varies within the UK (eg discard rates by consumers and recycling/ recovery policies in different local authorities)
The report looked at the full environmental impact of 150 top-selling food items, as identified by one of the UK's leading retailers, from cultivation, through transport and processing and to their consumption by an individual. Seven food groups were considered: basic carbohydrate foods, fruit and vegetables, dairy products, meat products, fish and other basic protein foods, drinks – alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and mixed products, snacks and other items.

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