"Although well-intentioned, it is incorrect to assume that the distance that food travels from point of origin to point of consumption is an accurate reflection of environmental impact," Capper says. "This simplistic approach fails to consider the productivity of the transportation system, which has tremendous impact on the energy expended per unit of food."
As an example, one dozen eggs, transported several hundred miles to a grocery store in a tractor-trailer that can carry 23,400 dozen eggs is a more fuel-efficient, eco-friendly option than a dozen eggs purchased at a farmers’ market (4.5 times more fuel used) or local farm (17.2 times more fuel used).
"The high-capacity vehicles used in modern transportation systems improve productivity, allowing food moved over long distances to be highly fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly compared to locally grown food," Capper explains.
The desire to protect the environment and to do so, in part, by altering personal behaviors, is admirable, says Capper. However, she emphasizes that those personal decisions must be based on logic rather than intuition.
"Consumers might think they are making the responsible, virtuous food choices, when, in truth, they are supporting production practices that consume more natural resources, cause greater pollution and create a larger carbon footprint than more efficient, technology-driven, conventional methods," she said.
See more comparisons by Capper at a previous Cornell Nutrition Conference.
I have heard Jude Capper speak a couple of times and she makes a compelling case. Fewer, more productive animals will be less intrusive on the environment than having three times the number, as was the case back in the 1940s. (1944 was the peak year for dairy cows in the U.S., with 25.6 million head.) But there are still critics out there. A reporter for the Yakima Herald received a letter from someone saying that more water is needed today to manage the manure at dairies than in 1950. Click here to see the discussion, including reader comments…. And, hey, Dairy Herd Management is even mentioned! The dairy industry has a good case to make, but the water issue does need to be addressed. Here is a link to our September cover story that offers insight into the water issue and may provide you with additional talking points. - Tom Quaife, editor