Rural affairs newspaper Country-Wide reports that British supermarket giant Sainsbury’s has launched a campaign to get consumers to eat more regional and local foods.

It’s called “Eat Britain.”

Tesco’s is running a similar campaign.

Says Country-Wide: “Buy-local campaigns are seen in retail outlets throughout the UK. Local news media have been quick to support the cause. Food outlets including restaurants have also jumped on the bandwagon promoting their use, and sale of, regionally produced food.”

The report notes growing UK and European consumer concern about green and ethical issues surrounding food imports — e.g., carbon footprint, food production processes, animal welfare standards, and traceability.

I can say the same issues have growing importance in the US. For example, Wal-Mart, America’s biggest retailer of just about everything Americans buy, including groceries, has just announced major new requirements related to sustainable production for all of its suppliers. And when Wal-Mart yanks its chain, suppliers jump … even in China.

The point is that the bar is constantly rising for NZ exporters of food products. And with Hawke’s Bay sitting as one of the country’s top four primary production regions (in terms of primary production’s share of regional GDP), it is rather important that our farmers “get it right” with respect to practises that are — and are perceived to be — environmentally friendly and sustainable.

So the next time you hear some head-in-the-dirt Councillor ranting about how environmentalists don’t appreciate farmers, consider this …

First, if environmentalists play a role in squeezing more environmentally sustainable practises out of those farmers who are recalcitrant, that will be benefit HB’s economy in the long run.

Will farmers “do it themselves?” I’d say the verdict is still out … and that’s being generous. According to the HBRC’s most recent land use report (Sep, 2008):

“Farmers generally express a clear preference for any nutrient regulation to control outputs from the farming system, not inputs … Whether sustainability can be achieved by simple effects management is under some challenge however, particularly in relation to cumulative effects. A more encompassing approach may well be required.” (italics added)

And note, this statement related to farm “outputs” polluting our water. That’s only one of many adverse environmental impacts poor farming practises can have. For example, equally worrisome are issues like depletion of the soil itself and stress on water supplies.

Second, not all farmers stopped educating themselves about better farming practises when petrochemicals arrived after WWII! There are plenty of farmers, including here in Hawke’s Bay, who are using farming methods that actually improve the soil, use less chemicals, and yield more and better tasting products.

Environmentalists are first in line cheering them on. Certainly BayBuzz is. Here and here are examples.

Tom Belford

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