Organic Articles: Local Food For Local People!

The Organic Consultancy

Local Food For Local People!

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the February 2002 edition of Organic Business.

Current developments in The Archers have me on the edge of my seat. Inevitably arch agro-business wheeler dealer Brian Aldridge is involved (not least with the luscious Siobhan, Ambridge’s answer to Nicole Kidman). Of more relevance to the organic world are Brian’s plans to buy Hungarian organic farms to allow him to undercut UK organic producers. Contrast this with the mixed organic farm of brother-in-law Tony Archer, supplying a local wholefood shop and local organic box scheme. Here is the current debate on local production in a nutshell: regional food production means reduced food miles and increased support for the local economy, but national or international sourcing means cheaper food.

Local food production is currently a very fashionable concept. Food miles stopped being solely of interest to the chattering classes when it became apparent that excessive movement of livestock around the country helped to spread foot and mouth disease. The success of farmers markets and farm shops indicates that at least some consumers want to reconnect with local producers, as shown by the Soil Association report Local Food Routes. Accordingly UK supermarkets are now working hard to see how their phenomenally efficient national distribution systems can be adapted to supply food on a local basis. Indeed Sainsbury’s Regionality Manager Jane Wakeling is addressing the Soil Association conference in Harrogate on regionality as it applies to organics.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Is food local if it is produced in the same village, the same county or the same country? Should we be seeking to better identify the origins of all food? What about those parts of the country that do not produce food? And what about processed food – is organic pickle produced down the road still local if the vinegar came from Germany?

With no legal definition of the word local it is entirely possible that every stage in the food chain will adopt the definition of local that best suits their own agenda. The resultant confusion could result in disillusioned consumers giving up on the concept of local food production, consigning the term local to the bin containing other over-used and under-defined claims such as “natural” and “environmentally friendly”. And that would be a missed opportunity for the organic sector.