Local Is The New Organic…Not

“Local Is The New Organic” is a headline from a recent edition of The Grocer. And there is no doubt that many people would like it to be so, especially supermarkets. It is much easier and cheaper to source potatoes ‘locally’ than organically. It also helps that there is no legal definition of the word local so, to paraphrase Alice in Wonderland, it means what you want it to mean. The honourable exception here is Waitrose who define local food as that sourced no more than 30 miles from the store. Local can refer to a village, town, county, region or even country, and I have seen all these descriptions used to justify the use of the word local on UK food and drink.
I don’t want to see South African apples on sale in my local greengrocers when UK apples are freely available. I am delighted at the renaissance in beer, bread and cheese that has resulted in the revival of artisan UK brewers, bakers and cheesemakers.  I chair the judging at the Quality Food Awards ( www.qualityfoodawards.com ) and our Local category goes from strength to strength – every year it highlights the terrific food and drink available from small UK producers.

But what is inherently sustainable about local? Nothing. The 3,770 cow mega-dairy that was planned for Nocton could have been described as local if you were unfortunate enough to live in the vicinity. Locally sourced products are good for keeping food miles down, but this is just one facet of the sustainability challenge. And I want the whole thing – low input (preferably organic), Fairtrade, cruelty-free, sustainably packaged and from a company of whose ethics I approve. Where does local fit in? As one aspect of a much larger picture