Adding to the heated food miles debate of recent years, AgResearch have completed a major study detailing the carbon equivalents released by New Zealand lamb exported to Europe.

The report builds on work done by Landcare Research and Lincoln University’s Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit (AERU) in 2006, by comprehensively measuring the carbon footprint of New Zealand lamb. The finding was that per 100gm, New Zealand lamb exported to Europe creates 1.9kg of CO2 equivalents – 80% of which are generated on the farm.

Professor Jacqueline Rowarth of Massey University says

The Ledgard report has set a benchmark for the world in being the first comprehensive full life cycle analysis of the carbon footprint of lamb production. Other lamb-producing countries will now be attempting to prove that their emissions are lower, so the onus on New Zealand producers will be to reduce emissions in future. The report shows where these reductions could be gained, and also highlights the difficulties ahead.

In other words, there remains the challenge of reducing the carbon footprint inside the farm gate.

One of the first reports to outline potential negatives about food miles was produced in 1994 by Safe Alliance. Since then, groups and consumers in Europe, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States have raised concerns with how far imported foods have travelled to reach their plates.

Landcare Research
As an exporting nation, New Zealand producers and exporters are vulnerable to demands for low food miles. A Landcare Research paper released in 2006  stated that ‘from a climate change perspective, reduction in food miles is appropriate as long as it leads to reduced emissions for the entire life cycle of the food product.’ Movement towards local foods has been a popular response from people trying to reduce their personal carbon footprint; however, the debate is much more complex than simply rejecting food that has travelled the longest distance. A recent FastCompany article, Food Miles Debunked, addresses this complexity, arguing that focusing your local eating on local specialities and being willing to import non-specialties can reduce your impact.

In July 2006, AERU released Food Miles – Comparative Energy/Emissions Performance of New Zealand’s Agriculture Industry. The report identified that if one considers not only the distance that food has travelled but the carbon footprint of food production, then exports of some of our key agricultural commodities are produced more efficiently in New Zealand than elsewhere (twice as efficient in the case of dairy, and four times as efficient in case of sheep meat).