Saturday, April 26, 2008

ECOLOGY CONCERNS DRAW ATTENTION TO FOOD SHIPPING TRADITIONS

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, NY TIMES Cod caught off Norway is shipped to China to be turned into filets, then shipped back to Norway for sale. Argentine lemons fill supermarket shelves on the Citrus Coast of Spain, as local lemons rot on the ground. Half of Europe’s peas are grown and packaged in Kenya. . .

Food has moved around the world since Europeans brought tea from China, but never at the speed or in the amounts it has over the last few years. . .

Increasingly efficient global transport networks make it practical to bring food before it spoils from distant places where labor costs are lower. . .

But the movable feast comes at a cost: pollution - especially carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas - from transporting the food.

Under longstanding trade agreements, fuel for international freight carried by sea and air is not taxed. Now, many economists, environmental advocates and politicians say it is time to make shippers and shoppers pay for the pollution, through taxes or other measures.

“We’re shifting goods around the world in a way that looks really bizarre,” said Paul Watkiss, an Oxford University economist who wrote a recent European Union report on food imports.

He noted that Britain, for example, imports - and exports - 15,000 tons of waffles a year, and similarly exchanges 20 tons of bottled water with Australia. More important, Mr. Watkiss said, “we are not paying the environmental cost of all that travel.”

Europe is poised to change that. This year the European Commission in Brussels announced that all freight-carrying flights into and out of the European Union would be included in the trading bloc’s emissions-trading program by 2012, meaning permits will have to be purchased for the pollution they generate.