Food miles getting bad rap, says new conference board study

Long-distance shipping has lowered food costs and given consumers more choice, says new report.  photo: thinkstock

Report says the amount of energy used, and carbon produced, in transportation pales in comparison to the amount used to produce the food

When it comes to its carbon footprint, local food isn’t better than products transported vast distances, says the Conference Board of Canada.

“Significantly more energy is consumed during the production process of most foods, relative to the energy that is consumed while in storage and transit,” says a new report from the board’s Centre for Food in Canada.

Moreover, “if transported in an environment that is not temperature controlled, a locally sourced product can, in fact, be less fresh than one that has been transported over a longer distance.”

Advances in both refrigerated transport and supply chain logistics have lowered food prices for consumers and expanded opportunities for agri-food exporters, the report states.

That’s given consumers more choices, with one American study finding the number of products carried in a typical grocery store has increased from 30,000 to nearly 50,000 in the last 10 years alone.

The report also states that it would be good for food producers in this country if other nations invested more in infrastructure such as cold storage. For example, Canada exports fresh pork to Japan but China mostly buys frozen because it lacks the facilities to handle fresh product. The report also notes Mexico could greatly increase its purchases of frozen foods if rail shipments moved faster and there was more cold storage facilities.

The report notes pulse crops, such as dry beans and lentils, are increasingly shipped in containers “to reduce the amount of handling and maintain product integrity.” Containers also compensate for the lack of grain-handling infrastructure in many countries such as Indonesia and North Africa.

Although Canada’s pulse crop exports have nearly doubled during the last five years, “there is room for even more growth,” the report observes. “Canadian pulse products are predominantly food grade rather than feed grade and command a premium as a result. However, lack of container availability could stymie further growth of pulse exports from Canada.”

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