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Food Miles Research Good News For Exporters

Hon Jim Anderton
Minister of Agriculture
Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Trade

14 September 2006

Food Miles Research Good News For Exporters

Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton and Trade Minister Phil Goff today welcomed the findings of a report debunking the concept of food miles - the theory that the further food has to travel to market, the worse its impact on the environment.

"The concept of food miles is both flawed and too often promoted by those motivated by self-serving objectives rather than genuine environmental concerns," Jim Anderton said. "It is being used in Europe by self interested parties trying to justify protectionism in another guise."

"The Lincoln University report, completed in July 2006, found the production of key New Zealand agricultural exports was more energy efficient. It resulted in fewer emissions than the same primary products produced in Europe. This was even after taking into account the distance New Zealand exports have to travel to reach key markets," Phil Goff said.

"The Lincoln University report also found that in the case of dairy and sheepmeat production, for example, New Zealand is more energy efficient including the cost of transporting the products to the UK.

"European research has also shown that food miles are not a good measure of environmental impact. A study by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has concluded that a single indicator based on total miles or kilometres is an inadequate indicator of environmental sustainability," Phil Goff said.

"The Lincoln University report follows a comprehensive approach. It shows that when consideration is given to New Zealand farming methods and the total amount of energy used, especially in the production phase, the overall picture is one of New Zealand producers being more energy efficient and creating fewer emissions. This is even after the energy consumed by transport is taken into account", said Jim Anderton.

An executive summary of The Lincoln University report; 'Food Miles – Comparative Energy / Emissions Performance of New Zealand's Agriculture Industry' is attached.

The full report can be found online at: http://www.lincoln.ac.nz/story_images/2328_RR285_s6508.pdf

Food Miles – Comparative Energy/Emissions Performance of
New Zealand’s Agriculture Industry

Executive Summary

Caroline Saunders
Andrew Barber
Greg Taylor

July 2006

Executive summary

- Food miles is a very simplistic concept relating to the distance food travels as a measure of its impact on the environment. As a concept food miles has gained some traction with the popular press and certain groups overseas. However, this debate – which only includes the distance food travels – is misleading as it does not consider total energy use, especially in the production of the product.

- The food miles concept has the potential to threaten New Zealand exports, given New Zealand’s geographical location. Around a third of New Zealand’s food and beverage exports are destined for EU markets. The solution proposed by food miles campaigners is to source food from as close to where it will be finally consumed as possible.

- This study looks at the environmental impact of some key New Zealand export products. The environmental impact calculations in this report are based upon a life cycle assessment (LCA) type approach and include the energy use and CO2 emissions associated with farm production and transport to the UK. This is a much more valid comparison than just distance travelled as it reflects the differences in countries’ production systems. These were then compared to the next best alternative source for the UK market. The products examined were dairy, apples, onions, and lamb.

- The analysis therefore first identified the farm production system in New Zealand and the relevant EU country which could be used as an alternative source of supply to the UK market. In general, data on production systems and energy use was much more comprehensive for New Zealand than for the alternative EU country. This has led to the New Zealand estimates of energy use and emission associated with production being more inclusive than those for the alternative EU country.

- Comparison of energy used and CO2 emissions between NZ and UK Dairy. The UK uses twice as much energy per tonne of milk solids produced than NZ, even including the energy associated with transport from NZ to the UK This reflects the less intensive production system in NZ than the UK, with lower inputs including energy.

- Comparison of energy used and CO2 emissions between NZ and UK Lamb. The energy used in producing lamb in the UK is four times higher than the energy used by NZ lamb producers, even after including the energy used in transporting NZ lamb to the UK. Thus, NZ CO2 emissions are also considerably lower than those in the UK.

- Comparison of energy used and CO2 emissions between NZ and UK Apples. NZ is also more energy efficient in producing and delivering apples to the UK market than the UK is. NZ energy costs for production are a third of those in the UK. Even when transport is added NZ energy costs are approximately 60 per cent of those in the UK. Consequentially the CO2 emissions per tonne of apples produced are also higher in the UK than in NZ, reflecting the higher energy use but also the lower emissions from NZ electricity generation.

- Comparison of energy used and CO2 emissions between NZ and UK Onions. The energy associated with onion production is higher in NZ compared with the UK. However, when storage is included for the UK, so they can supply the same market window as NZ can, the UK energy costs rise to 30 per cent higher than those in NZ, even accounting for transport.

- The report assumes that it is possible for other countries to supply UK market at current cost with produce of similar type and quality. This, of course, may not be the case given limited capacity of production, seasonal factors and different production environments.


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