The carbon footprint of supermarkets

  WhiteTruckMan 17:12 11 Mar 07
Locked

We did a shop at our local supermarket this afternoon and I happened to have pencil and paper with me and I decided to jot down some countries of origin of the produce in stock.

Please not that this is a real list, and is illustrative only. Countries suppled more than one product, and a product also came from more than one country.

Radish-Spain
Spring onion-Mexico
Red peppers-Israel
Blueberries-Chile
Strawberries-Morocco
Grapes-South Africa
Apples-Holland
Pears-Belgium
Grapefruit-USA
Oranges-Egypt
Bananas-Windward Isles + Ivory Coast
Sharon fruit-Madagascar
Physalis-Columbia
Star fruit-Malaysia
Coconut-Sri Lanka
Dragon fruit-Vietnam
Pomegranates-India
Dates-Jordan
Kiwi fruit-Italy
Melon-Brazil
Green peppers-Portugal
Pineapples-Costa Rica
Chillies-Zimbabwe +Zambia
Mushrooms-Ireland
Asparagus-Peru
Mangetout-Kenya

This is just the fresh product stuff. Presumably found its way to the UK by airfreight because they are perishable. Canned goods could be canned at source and carried by ship.

What do you think? If you think the list is in any way inflated I suggest you pay a little closer attention to the labels next time you are in a supermarket. Some of the above were difficult to read because of the size of the printing. Others I had to lift the boxes up because they werent on the product directly.

A lot is made lately about the carbon impact of people flying abroad on holiday, and measures are afoot to tax this, but taxing air freight seems to have slipped below the publics view.

Before anyone starts talking about supply and demand, I have to wonder if we (the public) demanded these things so the supermarkets (and, to be fair, other produce suppliers) began supplying them, or if they started supplying them so we would begin to demand them more and more?


WTM

  The Brigadier 17:14 11 Mar 07

You like fruit then WTM!

  WhiteTruckMan 17:17 11 Mar 07

Somebody must, I suppose!

WTM

  Kate B 17:22 11 Mar 07

That's a very interesting list and it at least partly reflects the fact that supermarkets mean that we don't have to stick to what's in season and what's available in the UK. I'm not remotely purist about food and supermarkets but someone who is would note that, for example, it's only thanks to the supermarkets' methods and reach that you can eat strawberries in March and dragon fruit at all.

Food revisionists would say that you should only shop in local markets and only buy local produce, which would put you back in touch with the seasonal rhythm of food. Actually, I think it's one of the good things about supermarkets that they've broadened our experience of food, and I suppose you have to reconcile for yourself the downside of the impact on the environment, not to mention the impact on local food producers and farmers.

Don't forget also that a lot of the work done by migrants at the bottom of the economic chain is backbreaking food picking and processing for very low wages, which means that you and I can buy food pretty cheaply in supermarkets.

I'm ethically conscious, I guess, but far from purist about it.

*peels a Spanish clementine*

  Forum Editor 17:28 11 Mar 07

and fresh produce growers are no different to software producers, or flower growers, or consumer-electronics manufacturers, they want a wider market for their goods.

To be at their best, some fruit and vegetable products need to be air-freighted, and often they arrive here less than 48 hours after cropping. Other products - notably grapes - can travel by sea, in chilled containers. Almost all fruit is refrigerated at some point in its journey from farm to store.

That's life in the 21st century, and supermarkets will sell these products as long as people continue to buy them. Go to the fruit farms in the Cape and you'll realise how huge numbers of Africans have become reliant on European supermarket customers for their livelyhood.

  WhiteTruckMan 17:35 11 Mar 07

at least some of the economics, but the point I was trying to ask was are we ultimately paying too high a price in terms of the amount air freight (read:polution) caused.

Additionally, in terms of supply and demand, which came first (kind of like an economic chicken-and-egg situation)?

WTM

  Diemmess 18:28 11 Mar 07

During only my retirement years in a Gloucestershire village near the Welsh border milking herds have almost disappeared.
The farms around have let their land for grazing sheep and of course - horses.
The barns have all been "converted" and the most unlikely hovels are now at least holiday lets if not new dwellings.

A dairy in the village has closed, two out of three milk rounds have disappeared and to crown that fact, even the last milkman offers either Jersey milk at a premium or a range of "full cream" or semi-skimmed milk which is homogenised. My wife calls it killed!
Oh, and the milkman only delivers on Saturday Tuesday and Thursday. No wonder it seldom seems fresh.

Why no really fresh milk?
It seems that Welsh milk from a few miles away is taken most of the way to London to be processed and then brought back to a nearby wholesaler where it is collected the day before delivery in the wee small hours.

Howzat for a carbon footprint!

  The Brigadier 18:40 11 Mar 07

Farmer next to us has a herd of 450 milkers & the fresh milk trudles out in the large milk wagon every day at 7am.

But most of the cattle feed is home grown as they are an organic farm. Not only does this make the milk taste better it is wanted by a bigger amount of the consumer. Sadly though it may cost more in the supermarket the farmer see's little of it!

  Diemmess 19:02 11 Mar 07

Good for you!
Here the only source of organic milk (not Fresh)is after a short journey (4 miles) to Co-op, Somerfield or Tesco.

  ulrich 19:15 11 Mar 07

When are they in season in England. I think in my youth we didn't eat salad in winter but it is meant to be good for you.

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