Sunday, 15 May 2016

Are local food chains more sustainable than global food chains?

There are clearly problems with the food chain:
Futures Forum: Taking control of the food chain

And there are clearly issues around how 'sustainable' our food system is:
Futures Forum: Sustainable food production and consumption

A new study out looks at how we can measure these things:

Why we don't know if local food chains are more sustainable than global food chains


Objective comparisons between “local” and global” food chains are difficult because of the need to include public attitudes as well as science, because food chains tend to be complex and changeable, because many sustainability attributes are not measurable and because there is a need to incorporate imprecise evaluations which may be good enough to identify critical issues and trade-offs. More impartial comparison of food chains labelled “local” and “global” should be carried out to help identify best practices, benchmarks, critical points, and errors to avoid.

This paper summarizes the main findings of the GLAMUR project which starts with an apparently simple question: is “local” more sustainable than “global”? The fully referenced version of the paper, "Are Local Food Chains More Sustainable than Global Food Chains? Considerations for Assessment", published in Sustainability 2016, 8, 449; doi:10.3390/su8050449, is here: https://t.co/orqxFj9KJ5

Sustainability assessment is framed within a perspective which advocates the integration of public deliberation and scientific research. This assessment spans 39 local, intermediate and global supply chain case studies across different commodities and countries. Assessment criteria cover environmental, economic, social, health and ethical sustainability dimensions. 
o This view of the food system demonstrates a highly dynamic continuum between local and global where actors adapt to changing environments and establish multiple relations in often complex supply chain configurations. 
o The evidence suggests caution when comparing “local” and “global” chains, especially when using the outcomes of the comparison in decision-making. 
o Even consolidated approaches, such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), assess only a part of sustainability attributes, and the interpretation may be controversial. 
o Many sustainability attributes are not yet measurable and 
o “Hard” methodologies need to be complemented by “soft” methodologies which are at least able to identify critical issues and trade-offs.

Aware of these limitations, the research shows that comparing local and global chains, with the necessary caution, can help overcome a priori positions that so far have characterized the debate between “localists” and “globalists”. At firm level, impartial comparison between so-called “local” and “global” chains could be useful to identify best practices, benchmarks, critical points, and errors to avoid.

As sustainability is not a status to achieve, but a never-ending process, comparison and deliberation can be the basis of a “reflexive governance” of food chains

Alan Spedding, 10 May 2016


Why we don't know if local food chains are more sustainable than global food chains | Farming Futures

See also:
Futures Forum: The food industry and energy
Futures Forum: Climate change: the role of livestock and agriculture.......... or: "Can steak save the planet?"
Futures Forum: Peak oil, peak soil, peak water... peak everything
Futures Forum: The Water, Energy and Food Nexus
Futures Forum: "Little over half of our food needs will be produced here at home within 25 years."
Futures Forum: Food waste >>> on overproduction, jam-packed shelves and anaerobic digestion
Futures Forum: Localising Prosperity >>> by mainstreaming community economic development

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