Importing food from the other side of the world can sometimes be more energy-efficient than buying UK produce, according to an agriculture expert.
Dr Alexander Kasterine, of UN agency the International Trade Centre, said the UK should cut its carbon emissions instead of banning imported organic produce which can help tackle poverty in developing countries.
His comments were made to the Soil Association conference in London, which is part of the group’s wider consultation on the issue of air freight and organic food.
The group, which certifies organic products sold in the UK, is considering stripping air freighted goods of organic status because of environmental concerns.
Dr Kasterine told delegates that many UK farms used more energy than those in Kenya because they relied on tractors and other machinery instead of manual labour.
Around 85 per cent of energy used in product distribution happens once goods are in the UK, he said.
Dr Kasterine said UK farmers received subsidies under the current EU system.
‘You can’t take that money and then punish African farmers at the same time who don’t have any subsidies,’ he said.
‘Farmers get a diesel subsidy. They get a direct energy subsidy of 50p per litre. And yet the same farmers are telling Africans not to air freight their product. It is totally absurd.’
Dr Kasterine said UK consumers produced around 30 times more carbon dioxide emissions than those in East Africa.
‘My point is that we should think about changing our rich lifestyles and how really we should be thinking about decreasing carbon dioxide before cutting the route for the very poorest to get out of poverty,’ he said.
‘There is a huge opportunity here for the Soil Association to show that the organic movement is ethical and it is inclusive and it is bringing people out of poverty in these countries.’
Soil Association standards board chairwoman, Anna Bradley, said the group had so far received around 50 responses to its consultation.
The ‘vast majority’ of these wanted some action taken about air freight.
Suggested solutions ranged from stripping goods transported by air of organic status to marking them with an air freight label.
The seminar will feed into the Soil Association air freight consultation, which closes in September.
The group will make a final decision on its approach to air freight and organic produce next year.
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