When we can, we should support food production and supply that has as little impact on the environment as possible. But does this always mean favouring local made food over imported food?
In that bastion of interventionism and state-molded markets, the UK, there has been much talk about the environmental unfriendliness of imported food. This is because, so the argument goes, food that has to be transported longer distances requires more greenhouse gasses to be emitted in getting it to its final destination due to additional transportation energy that is consumed in the process. As everyone knows, CO2 is the devil and global warming is about to kill us all, so importing food is a bad idea for the planet. Right? And so the answer is put artificial pressure on the market by introducing what is effectively a tariff – an imported food tax to discourage people from buying better or more affordable in the interests of buying domestic products.
I’m not even going to touch the global warming/climate change issue here or even the issue of tariffs in general, I’m just bringing this subject up at all because of a piece I saw today in a fish and chip shop’s copy of the University of Otago magazine. Fish and chip shops being what they are, it’s not a recent issue – October 2007. The story is by Dr Niven Winchester (pictured) of the University’s Department of Economics.
Obviously with a fairly geographically isolated country like New Zealand, which depends as heavily as it does on exports, the prospect of other countries making it harder for our products to be sold there is a troubling one for our economy. But what if this tough talk on imports just amounted to economic redneckery (I claim ownership of that word) dressed up as genuine scientific concern, riding a wave of environmental hysteria?
What Dr Winchester points out is as follows:
Researchers at Lincoln University have … found that, having accounted for CO2 emissions from production and transportation, New Zealand lamb and dairy products supplied to UK supermarkets generate, respectively, around one fourth and one half of the CO2 generated by the supply of UK alternatives.
As it turns out, if food was carbon taxed, imported food from New Zealand would still be cheaper, and a move to restrict imports and towards food produced int he UK, CO2 emissions would increase and not decrease. Oh dear, our UK greenie friends. Maybe free trade is your friend after all…