Iowa Public Television


The Cost of Distant Food Sources

posted on March 7, 2003

The prospect of war with Iraq has renewed concerns about the dependency of the U.S., as well as the rest of the world, on Middle Eastern oil. Indeed, concern over oil dependency is fueling debate over how the nation's economy can wean itself.

Serious debate on the issue extends beyond throwing rocks at SUVs. Potential solutions include developing an agricultural economy that is less consumptive of petroleum resources.

For example, advocates of the local food movement argue that sourcing food grown closer to home would conserve much of the massive amount of energy that is currently expended to transport food.


The Cost of Distant Food Sources

A visit to the local Midwest grocery store which sells tangerines from South Africa, apples from New Zealand, boxes of bananas from Costa Rica and asparagus from Mexico confirms it is truly a global marketplace.

Even for grapes grown in the U.S., the produce can still be trucked hundreds of miles to Midwest or East Coast markets.

A study published by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, in Ames, Iowa … showed, in 1988, the average distance a truck of produce traveled to reach Chicago, was 1,518 miles. That was a 22% increase over the 1,245 miles the produce traveled in 1981.

The Iowa study then figured the cost of utilizing three local food projects ... where farmers sold to nearby institutions, restaurants and conference centers… and found the food traveled an average of just 44.6 miles.

The study tabbed the cost of fuel and the carbon dioxide emissions … and found that "conventional" over-the-road transportation – used 4 to 17 times more fuel and emitted 5 to 17 times more CO2 from burning of the fuel than a regional-based food distribution system.

Fuel costs and environmental issues are but two issues integral to America's food distribution system. There are also concerns over how food is grown … and how it is labeled.


Tags: agriculture food money news transportation