Trade Talk

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Trade Talk
Going the extra miles

Much has been said and written about the environmental impact of food miles. Despite the fact that research shows most consumers don't care, some UK farmers have used it as an opportunity to knock imports.

Unfortunately, they are in danger of shooting themselves in their collective feet. Food trade is two-way: if food miles are to be reduced overall, those associated with food exports ought to be included in the equation.

It's all very well to bang on about the numbers of miles food has travelled to our British plates, but what about the miles travelled by our own farmers' products to some foreign platter? According to Food from Britain, the value of British food and drink exports is almost £10bn. How many food miles does that represent?

None of us would want to see this trade jeopardised. Some of our exports are products that are surplus to requirements and, in the absence of a market, they would have to be destroyed at a cost to the environment, not to mention the waste of good food.

For example, we produce a lot of surplus dairy fat because of the high volume of skimmed and semi-skimmed milk consumed in the UK. Other animal and plant products not classed as food are also exported to the benefit of our farmers. These may be by-products of farming for food and include such things as hides, skins, wool and pet food, to name but a few. If the governments of other countries decided to latch on to food miles as a protectionist measure it could threaten the viability of our own primary food production. Moreover, we might be forced to import more.

Knocking the competition can be a two-edged sword. In this case, it's blinkered protectionism masquerading as environmental conservation.

Clare Cheney​ is Director general at the Provision Trade Federation

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