This article does not reference meat directly discuss meat, but it does hit on a popular idea that I often think about. “Locavores.” In the study that’s discussed in the freelance article I found in Tulare Advance-Register, the accepted distance from a population center for food to be considered “local” is 150 miles. The distance associated with “local” varies — I have encountered requests that “local” be considered 25o miles, while others would like it to be “in their back yard.” In my view, the reality of this is that some foods are, in fact, local — regardless of where “home” is, yet not everything we consume is local. I recall visiting a neighborhood restaurant for breakfast, featuring “local bacon and eggs,” and the “meal deal” also featured a bottomless cup of coffee and a small orange.
NOTE: This article does not address “processed” foods.
DON CURLEE • AGRICULTURE • FEBRUARY 22, 2010
The study concludes that the benefits of such a massive shift in such production and distribution methods are not likely to be as substantial as has been asserted. Furthermore, it suggests that the benefits are dwarfed by the costs of less-efficient production and reduced access to nutritious food.
The perspective taken by study author Steve Sexton is global. He cites projections of a world population of 9 billion by 2050, and says feeding a hungry world is a paramount objective. He summarized his findings in the November/December issue of Update, published by the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at the University of California, Davis.
“A doubling of food production in the second half of the 20th century saved the world from mass starvation,” he writes, “as population doubled to six billion.” He credits the rise of modern farming propelled by the Green Revolution for that accomplishment.
Producing food near population centers is the dream of locavores, but now it’s also the subject of a serious study by a Ph.D. agricultural resources student at the University of California, Berkeley.
While current food production and distribution systems are criticized by locavores for their consumption of energy, Sexton says such criticism ignores the economies of scale and the gains of moving from a mule-dominated farm economy to the efficiency of tractors and other motorized equipment. He believes those advantages likely will be lost in smaller diversified farm units nestled against the city limits.
The fantasy land Sexton identifies as pseudo-locavorism will require more than 214 million additional acres in farm production, an area twice the size of California. The transition means 40 million additional acres will be required in California, 34 million in Texas and 26 million in Florida.
The additional acreage and loss of efficiencies are calculated by Sexton to demand significant energy-intensive inputs that will likely overwhelm any carbon-emissions reductions coming from decreased transportation and monocropping.
In visualizing food production within 150 miles of all population centers, locavorism must consider the utilization of land that is marginal at best for agricultural production. Production efficiencies on such land can be significantly reduced.
Sexton’s study recognizes that the locavore movement generally views big business as an insincere steward of the environment and a principal cause of rampant obesity in the United States. His data lead him to believe that ending food-market dominance by big agribusiness is only the secondary choice of locavorism.
In regard to a primary claim by locavores that agricultural policy and the resulting production has led to childhood obesity and poor nutrition, Sexton states that the argument is based on a series of assumptions that seem to belie accepted facts researched by agricultural economists.
He concludes that a local food system is not likely to improve American diets for two basic reasons: increased cost of foods from forsaking the gains from scale and trade economies, and restricted access to fresh produce for millions of Americans who live in climates where the items can be grown only in energy-intensive greenhouses.
“If mass starvation is to be avoided in the current century,” Sexton reasons, “then we must either forsake natural land including tropical forests, or renew our commitment to crop science.”
Before clearing thousands, perhaps millions, of acres of tropical forests, the wisest decision might be to abandon locavorism. Sexton’s study takes some positive steps in that direction.