Money Talks

Money talksFor many of us the emergence of the Fairtrade movement helped us to realise that we could effect the market place and the suppliers habits by consciously deciding where to spend our pound. Nowadays that is still true, even if it can seem more complex than we originally thought. At Daily Bread our commitment is threefold: to stock as much fairly traded as we can; stock a large range of organic goods; promote and stock goods from local suppliers where possible. What about fresh produce? What are the issues for the ethical consumer regarding fruit and vegetables, meat and fish?

Once upon a time, the pattern of supply and demand for food was dictated by the rhythms of nature. Produce that did well in our climate was eaten all the year round and any excess was preserve, pickled, smoked or salted. Produce with less frequent harvests or were more expensive to produce, like for example beef, became special treats and none of the animal was wasted.
Nowadays, however, nature can be manipulated – growing seasons can be extended (many soft fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, mushrooms, strawberries etc) are grown in heated conditions over a large part of the year. Yields are increased or we simply import from countries with cheap labour costs. So now, what we want can be supplied all year round at relatively low prices. As long as we keep buying it then suppliers and producers will keep delivering, immensely assisted by advances in technology and complicated or unenforced regulations.

This is a marvellous model for those living in a world with unlimited resources. All of us on planet Earth however do not. As Mel Barrett from the Wholesome Food Association points out
"There are three big issues which touch us all:

Over exploitation
The world's resources are being consumed at unsustainable rates, that is to say, at some point in the future they will be in very short supply, with price hikes for all. The vast quantities of synthetic fertiliser used in intensive farming systems (for example to grow corn and soy for livestock feed) are hastening the march towards the day when oil production goes into irreversible decline. But it is the issue of land which really stirs up campaigners. Nowadays, most of the world's livestock is fed on grain, requiring huge amounts of crops: in the US, for example, more than 70 percent of the grain produced is fed to livestock.
Damage to the eco-system reaches the tipping pointWFA
Human life depends on the optimal functioning of ecosystems. For example, forests store billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide which would otherwise be released into the atmosphere; the sea-bed is rich in marine life, essential to the food chain. In 2005 the UN reported that 60 per cent of 24 ecosystems examined were being degraded or exploited beyond ecological limits, with symptoms including the irreversible decline of fish stocks, the spread of disease, soil erosion, the loss of water quality and shifts in regional climate

Global warming
Most of the observed global warming over the last 50 years has been caused by the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG); the food supply chain belches out millions of tonnes of these annually. The two main culprits cited are livestock production, in particular beef and dairy (accountable for almost a fifth of all GHG according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), from the burning of forest; nitrous oxide released from manure and fertilizer; and methane discharged by livestock) and the transportation of our food. The FAO claims transportation contributes 11% of all GHG (15% in the UK according to the Cabinet Office); others believe the figure to be significantly higher." 


The meat consumption debate is heavily polarised. In one corner are those who claim a case can no longer be made for eating meat, which, with its high feed conversion ratio (i.e. it takes much more land to produce food from livestock – in particular beef and dairy – than from crops). In the other corner are the huge suppliers of feed and fertiliser and the GM lobby, equally convinced that intensive farming is the only way to meet the increased production – 50% more cereal and 85% more meat – which the World Bank predicts will be needed by 2030 .
The analysis does seem to add up to eating less red meat and dairy. When you do buy meat, arguably the best option is livestock which hasn't been fed on fertiliser-gobbling, rainforest-depleting grain and soy. In the meantime, good options are poultry (which has a comparatively low grain to yield ratio) and animals which eat a diet high in foraged food, such as wild game animals and birds, free-range mutton and lamb and cattle which has been fattened on grass or pasture (and labelled as such).
Food supply constraints vary by country, but in the UK a good case can be made for pasture-based livestock farming systems: two-thirds of UK farmland is grass, with little alternative agricultural use

Fruit and Vegetables
The natural season for British tomatoes is a few weeks in August and September; outside of these months most of the tomatoes sold in the UK are grown in heated polytunnels, which use ten times as much energy, and emit nearly four times as much CO2, as producing the same quantity of tomatoes in unheated polytunnels in Spain and transporting them by road to the UK.

Marine Stewardship Council approved species is the way to go. That essentially focuses on traditional fishing methods that avoid over exploitation. Fish caught by traditional methods will never meet all our requirements; sustainable aquaculture looks like it has the answer. Look for farms certified by the ASC Aquaculture Stewardship Council or with organic accreditation.

So where has the fun and the pleasure gone in preparing and eating food! Lets not lose sight of the joy of making food and eating together. Its not always possible to seek out seasonal veg cultivated without heated polytunnels, grass-fed livestock and MSC certified fish, fairly traded wholefoods. So lets keep it simple and avoid the worst, when we can; create demand for the best, when we can, and remember this: Nearly 7 million tonnes of food is thrown away each year in our homes. Eliminating household waste (most of which gets burned) would save the equivalent in GHG as taking one in five cars off UK roads, not to mention reduce the burden on the earth's resources. When you're faced with little choice, why not focus on making sure that what you do buy doesn't end up in the bin?