Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Kiwifruit fight back: We do not fly but travel by ship

In a letter to today's Guardian Jim Anderton the New Zealand minister of agriculture denied that New Zealand was contributing to global warming by flying the small hairy fruits to Europe.

Kiwifruit realities and carbon war possibilities

I must, however, take issue with the statement attributed to former minister Stephen Byers that "one kilo of kiwifruit flown from New Zealand to Europe discharges 5kg of carbon into the atmosphere". No New Zealand kiwifruit for retail sale is flown to Europe. Instead, our kiwifruit exports are shipped by sea to markets throughout the world. Shipping is commonly acknowledged as one of the most carbon-efficient forms of transport.

A recent study by one of our leading research institutions has shown that produce grown efficiently in New Zealand and shipped to Europe is often much less carbon-intensive than produce grown in Europe. In a world where resources are increasingly strained, trade in food will be vital to feed heavily populated parts of the world such as Europe. The best thing for the environment would be to cut back on inefficient farming practices and grow produce where it does not require artificial inputs such as grain feed stocks, gas-fired hot houses or subsidies for farmers.

If European producers want to expose the real costs to the environment of food production, then they are on a hiding to nothing. Shipping is not a great threat to the climate but it is easy to identify. It is harder for consumers to visualise the energy used in production systems or in their everyday actions.

I welcome an honest debate about food production systems but European farmers and consumers need to be mindful that this issue is not straightforward. Often the petrol used in driving to the supermarket is worse for the environment than the so-called "food miles" goods have travelled.
Jim Anderton
New Zealand minister of agriculture

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