Friday, July 31, 2009

Buy Local?

It has become a mantra, but some of the reasons given why it is better than buying global are suspect, and buying global might pencil out actually satisfying the reasons given for buying local, better, as this article from Financial Post reveals.

An excerpt.

“Activists tout low “food miles” to discourage consumers from buying foods produced in and transported from distant locations. This movement argues that locally produced food is not only fresher and better tasting — which can be plausible claims — but is also more nutritious, beneficial for the local economy and better for the environment because it requires less energy to reach consumers’ table.

“The appeal of the food mile perspective, with its promise to reconnect people with food, neighbouring producers and seasonality, while delivering environmental, economic, health and social benefits, is understandable. At root, however, this perspective is infused by activists’ distrust of large corporations and their romanticization of subsistence agriculture rather than fact…

“Local produce and the eschewing of trade — subsistence agriculture, which is ultimately what food miles boil down to — is of course feasible but it implies significant trade-offs that may not be readily apparent to those who have never experienced it. Because of bad weather, plant and agricultural diseases, pest infestations and an inability to draw on the surplus food generated in other agricultural regions, individuals living in subsistence agricultural production systems were throughout history subjected to much lower living standards, famines and starvation than individuals who benefited from long-distance trade. Restrictive local food policies would imply, even in the world’s currently most advanced and productive agricultural areas, much higher prices and a drastic reduction in the quantity and diversity of foods available to human beings.

“Our modern globalized food supply chain is a demonstrably superior alternative that has evolved through constant competition and ever more rigorous management efficiency. Indeed, a world food chain characterized by free trade and the absence of agricultural (and other) subsidies would deliver lower prices and more variety in a manner that is both more economically and environmentally efficient. The underlying principle would be very simple. As the Scottish economist Adam Smith wrote more than two centuries ago, it is the “maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy.” Feeding a rapidly growing world population in a sustainable manner requires long-distance trade to insure that food is produced most efficiently in the most suitable locations, in the process economizing on all required inputs relative to alternatives.”