There are clearly problems with the food chain:
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And there are clearly issues around how 'sustainable' our food system is:
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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:
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
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
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