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Short thought about short food

Tomatoes transported from Morocco to Norway emit far less greenhouse gases than Norwegian greenhouse tomatoes.


The world needs local and environmentally friendly food production, says Nature and Youth (NU) in Ny Tid on 15 December. This is a pious wish, but it is a mistake to make transport distance the most important issue in relation to the food we eat. Two global principles must prevail: The total environmental impact of the food we eat must be kept to a minimum, and we must ensure that trading conditions give priority to the poorest, so that they have the opportunity to protect vulnerable production and gain clear advantages in international markets.

Local is not as environmentally friendly. The recently published report "Livestock's long shadow" from the UN's agricultural organization FAO shows that the production of meat and milk now accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Meat and milk production will have doubled by 2050. In this situation, NU will concentrate its efforts on reducing emissions from the transport of food, which according to FAO's calculations amounts to ten thousandth (!) Of the emissions. At the Norwegian level, The Future in Our Hands (FIVH) has calculated that an average meal covers 2300 kilometers, and that this contributes to three percent of the total emissions from the meal. This includes two kilometers to the store by car, which contributes a third of the transport emissions. The food travels collectively to the store, while the full shopping bags drive a private car home. Another example: Outdoor tomatoes from Morocco, including transport to Norway, emit one-eighth of the greenhouse gas emissions generated from the corresponding amount of tomatoes from Norwegian greenhouses. And what does NOW think about the fact that the emissions from the production of artificial fertilizer needed to make an average kilo of Norwegian mutton are ten times as high as the transport emissions from one kilo of mutton from Namibia?

It is a fallacy to blame the WTO for the problems that agriculture in rich countries inflict on the environment and the poor.

The FAO's main conclusion is clear: The only solution that really suits is to reduce the consumption of meat through a complete introduction of environmental taxes, combined with the removal of subsidies. Those with the highest meat consumption must cut. Norwegians have increased their meat consumption by 40 per cent since 1990, and emissions from the Norwegian livestock sector are increasing. When NOW puts "and" between local and environmentally friendly, they pretend that local is equally environmentally friendly. That's not it.

Prices are being pushed down. NOW likes to give the impression that it is WTO-created free trade in food that creates environmental problems in the world. But it is not so. The agricultural policy pursued in rich countries today is a result of national sovereignty. The EU, Norway and the US have themselves determined the structure and scope of agricultural subsidies, and more. Therefore, it is a fallacy to blame the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the enormous problems that agriculture in rich countries inflict on the environment and the poor.

If trade rules negotiated in the WTO can help to weaken the rich countries' hegemony over world trade in food, this will be important. But this is not reflected in NU's policy. The organization is part of the Norwegian Trade Campaign, which in its platform demands that "every country must have the right to take measures that ensure production for their own consumption". Unfortunately, this approach is by far a good way to confirm that today's superb agricultural policy in the rich countries is ok.

In their post, NOW emphasizes that they are fighting for all countries to be allowed customs duty. Here we mainly agree with NOW, although customs are not always problem-free. Customs scaling makes the rate increase as the goods are processed. Cocoa from Ghana is duty free, while chocolate is duty-free. In addition: If you export chocolate from Ghana you will encounter higher customs walls than if you export from the EU. Not very fair. But there are other measures that the rich countries are taking to protect the domestic market far worse. The worst is of course the subsidies (some of which are export subsidies to get rid of overproduction). About 225 billion euros went to Western agriculture in 2005, that is, more than three times as much as total aid to the south. The funds could, for example, go to climate projects or to develop agriculture in the south. Instead, non-sustainable agriculture is subsidized. This causes environmental damage and pushes down food prices.

Those living on agriculture without subsidies are becoming even poorer. In addition, the poor are not allowed to sell their goods where the greatest purchasing power exists. In the north, products such as meat, wheat, tobacco, sugar and tomatoes are grown with support regimes that are justified in several ways: Provide their own inhabitants with cheap and safe food, and of course maintain and create jobs. Indirectly, poor countries are forced to produce tropical goods such as coffee, tea and cocoa.

Protection for the rich. But there is more. One such is the Norwegian security mechanism. This imposes a temporary cessation of duty- and quota-free imports of cereals, flour and feed from the least developed countries (LDCs) when the earnings of Norwegian farmers are affected. In other words, LDC countries have duty-free and quota-free access to the Norwegian market for so long, and only for so long, they have nothing to sell.

The requirements for infection protection and hygiene standards can also be very unreasonable for poor countries. For example, bone meat from Namibia is shut out for fear of bulletproofness and foot-and-mouth disease. Namibia has never had a bullshit, and the latter last in 1964. At the same time, the bone is imported meat from several European countries that have had these diseases over the last ten years.

The protection schemes are far and away reserved for rich countries. Poor countries therefore have very little to gain by fighting for trade rules that say "all countries are entitled" to. However, the farmer team, which is also part of the Trade campaign, has reason to be satisfied.

Alternative plan. Still, it is to be hoped that NOW will free itself from its industrial policy ties. It is a good sign that they explicitly mention that production-independent subsidies are problematic. We now warmly support NU's goal of removing all subsidies on exported agricultural products. However, as previously shown, domestic subsidies also affect poor people, directly by outperforming their goods in the world market, and indirectly by lowering the price of agricultural products in general. We are also calling for an alternative plan from NOW: What if we do not get a system that refuses rich countries to export food at prices below production costs, not to mention environmental costs? Should we then forget all other requirements under subsidies, security mechanisms, tariff escalation, and so on in rich countries, because all countries, regardless of wealth and power, "must have the right" to take the measures they deem necessary? Should we also pretend that it is perfectly problematic that Norwegian positions and regulations legitimize today's unfair and environmentally hostile food and support regime?

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