Organic Food Miles take toll on environment

Organic fruit and vegetables may be healthier for the dinner table, but not necessarily for the environment, a University of Alberta study shows.

The study, conducted by a team of student researchers in the Department of Rural Economy at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, showed that the greenhouse gas emitted when the produce is transported from great distances mitigates the environmental benefits of growing the food organically.

If youre buying green, you should consider the distance the food travels. If its travelling further, then some of the benefits of organic crops are cancelled out by extra environmental costs, said researcher Vicki Burtt.

Burtt and her fellow researchers compared the cost of food miles between organic and conventionally grown produce, and found that there was little difference in the cost to the environment.

Food miles are defined as the distance that food travels from the field to the grocery store. The study found that the environmental cost of greenhouse gas (CO2) emitted to transport 20 tonnes of organically grown produce was comparable to that of bringing the same amount of conventional fruit and vegetables to market.

For the study, the team collected retail price data from six grocery stores and interviewed suppliers about their shipping methods. They created comparable food baskets of both organic and conventionally-grown fruit and vegetables being transported to Edmonton stores by truck, train or ship, and found that most travels by truck. Since 1970 truck shipping has increased, replacing more energy-efficient rail and water transport.

The researchers calculated that the annual environmental costs for a city the size of Edmonton were $135,000 to $183,000 (5,492-7,426 tonnes CO2) for conventional produce and $156,000 to $175,000 (6,348-7,124 tonnes CO2) for organic produce. Many of the organic products are travelling further than the conventional food. Two it

Contact: Bev Betkowski
University of Alberta

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