SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 21, 2007) – This holiday season meal planners have another good reason to choose locally grown food, according to a national conservation group. A new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that transporting foods shorter distances results in less smog-forming and global warming pollution.
“Many home cooks and restaurant chefs already know that local food is fresher and tastier,” said Dr. Gina Solomon, a physician and senior scientist at NRDC. “But there’s another good reason to choose locally grown food: it’s healthier for people and our planet.”
Most produce in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles before being sold, according to NRDC. The distance traveled is even higher when food is shipped across the globe. “The typical American meal contains ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States,” said Solomon. “Those food miles all add up, and the result is more pollution, threatening the air we breathe and our planet’s climate.”
Importing food from far away is especially hazardous for people who live near ports and other transport facilities. Their neighborhoods are constantly choked with higher levels of diesel soot and smog-forming pollutants.
“It is a well documented scientific fact that the rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses are higher in neighborhoods near rail yards and port terminals,” said Solomon. “The concentrated pollution levels in these communities pose an unacceptable threat to human health.”
Consumers can prepare tastier meals while reducing pollution by looking for local foods with help from a new feature on the NRDC web site. They can look up their state and time of year to find out what foods are in season locally. (See www.nrdc.org/health/foodmiles/
) For example, in Northern California in late November there are dozens of local foods to choose from, including almonds, artichokes, carrots and oranges. In New York State, this time of year is good for apples, broccoli, cabbage and turnips.
The NRDC web site offers other tips such as shopping for food at farmers markets. That’s not just good for the environment and public health; it also benefits family farmers, as well as the local economy. When shopping elsewhere the group advises checking labels to identify foods that traveled shorter distances. Another suggestion: people can ask their favorite grocery stores and restaurants to carry more local foods.
The NRDC analysis took a closer look at the hidden costs of importing food to California. It calculated the pollution emissions from transporting table grapes from Chile, navel oranges from Australia, wine from France, garlic from China, rice from Thailand, and tomatoes from Mexico and The Netherlands. In 2005 alone, total agricultural imports into California resulted in almost 250,000 tons of global warming pollution, more than 6,000 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides and 300 tons of sooty particulate matter. Approximately 950 cases of asthma, 16,870 missed school days, 43 hospital admissions and 37 premature deaths could be attributed to all that pollution. Better choices are readily available for California consumers since all six foods are produced locally most or all of the year. Downloadable versions of NRDC’s “Food Miles” fact sheets are available on line at www.nrdc.org/health/effects/camiles/contents.asp