Food Miles Study: Read it Carefully

There was a study released by researchers at the University of Alberta this week that I read about and thought, “Well, I expect the point will be promptly missed on that.”

The study compared the cost of food miles for organic and conventionally grown produce, and found that there was little difference. The amount of greenhouse gases produced in transporting organically-grown food to Alberta weren’t significantly different than the amount produced in transporting conventionally-grown produce to Alberta.

Of course, you wouldn’t expect them to be very different, unless you were evaluating different production areas – most organic and conventional crops are coming from the same places. The few differences they noted were, in fact, due to different production areas. Organic mangoes from Ecuador bumped up the total for organic food miles against conventional mangoes from Mexico, but there are organic mangoes from Mexico too – I suppose they just weren’t for sale in Alberta while the study was being conducted.

The real problem was way the study was pitched in the original release. The headline it was given was “Organic Food Miles take toll on environment,” which makes it sound like organic food was found to be significantly worse in terms of its mileage, which it wasn’t; they were found to be substantially the same. And I thought, “I bet some sloppy and misleading headlines will follow.”

Yep:

Organic Food Not Environmentally Great

When Organics Hurt the Planet

Organics May Not Be Environmentally Friendly

All from the information in that original release about there not being a significant difference in food miles.

What the release didn’t note was whether any differences in the environmental impact of production methods between the organically and conventionally produced crops had been accounted for. All the study seemed to be measuring was food miles.

The release stated that greenhouse gas emitted when produce is transported from great distances mostly offsets the environmental benefit of growing the food organically, but they didn’t say how they were defining that benefit.

Misleading reporting on research really irritates me.

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