Earth-friendly food criteria could knock local producers

/
/
/
/
/
/
Earth-friendly food criteria could knock local producers

Ref: The Weekender South Africa Posted to the web on: 17 March 2007 by PATRICK BURNETT A NEW debate over environmentally friendly food in the UK, a major market for South African fresh fruit and vegetables, has raised concern about possible knock-on effects for the local export industry. Major UK supermarket chain Tesco announced last month that it planned to introduce �carbon-friendly” measures such as carbon-counting labelling and restrictions on air-freighted food stocks. In the same way that labelling tells consumers about calorie counts, the new measures would indicate a product�s carbon footprint � the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in its production. This would enable consumers to help solve the global warming crisis by not buying produce that damages the environment. Local shoppers could also soon have this option, with Woolworths saying it is considering carbon labelling and limiting the amount of air-freighted products as part of its commitment to sustainability. Among exporters in SA, the debate and its potential effect on tight bottom lines has not gone unnoticed, with one industry source saying, �when Tesco�s says jump, we usually ask how high�. Transport, and the distance produce travels to get to market, is a major focus of the plans because of damaging carbon emissions given off by long-distance travel. Exporters and fresh produce associations in SA�s multimillion-rand fresh produce export industry point out that most produce is shipped and so escapes regulations on air-freighted produce, which is seen as highly polluting. But Tesco�s plans to cut air-freighted produce from 2%-3% to less than 1% raises concern about a smaller export market in berries and designer vegetables that are air freighted. Chris Charter of Well-Pict SA, a company that runs several strawberry-producing farms near George which export their produce, says he is concerned about these developments as strawberries cannot be sent by ship. The regulations will affect 70 permanent workers at the group�s farms and about 200 casuals. A survey showed there were about three dependants for each worker. Richard Worthington, co-ordinator of the South African Climate Action Network, says the �feel-good interventions� of the north could have negative effects in the south, with no gain for the climate, if quantifying methodologies are not put in place. Anton Rabe, CEO of the Deciduous Fruit Producers Trust, an umbrella body for the deciduous fruit industry, says the debate is in its early stages: �Discussion within the industry has started and how we will respond is difficult to say�. Stefan Conradie, product manager for the South African Pome and Stone Fruit Association, says his organisation is planning a study that would look at the issue. �We need to be able to compare our carbon footprint with that of northern-hemisphere suppliers because there is the perception that our carbon footprint is larger, which is not necessarily the case.� From the UK, Martin Dunnett, UK trading director for fresh fruit marketer Capespan, says that green issues are �key drivers� in the UK market. He says retailer demands for environmental accreditation in terms of waste management, recycling and pesticide reduction should be recognised. �There is a danger that in failing to be responsive to these issues, the commercial impact felt by a retailer can be significant and affect the grower directly in the longer term.� West Cape News