VEGA News Item

Carbon Emissions Reduction - 15/08/2007
VEGA comments on a Carbon Emissions Consultation.

VEGA comments on a Carbon Emissions Consultation.

Re: Carbon Emissions Reduction Target April 2008 to March 2011

1. Ben Bradshaw, MP, a Minister at DEFRA until recently, and authoritative comments by economists have given consumers unequivocal advice on the benefits of dietary change in individual action informed by reinforcing evidence and example uttered by government ministries and agencies concerned with health, uses of water and fuel, and importation and exportation of staple crops of food. Some of these imperatives would best be met by local and immediate action, e.g. on “waste” and elements of recycling.

2. Education authorities must give much more attention and example in emphasizing local and global factors and the meaning of low input and thrifty farming and food production with due consideration to seasonal fluctuations and variations in geology, climate, use of the land and amenity. At the moment targets and rigid divisions of enterprise in the CERT interest may inhibit or confuse research until the public and media can be offered better-reasoned and argued evidence than they are receiving or generating. At least the debate concentrates attention from which concerted and collaborative effort sufficient to prompt initiatives in industry and the market arises.

3. Subsidies obscure the real costs, measured in several ways, of cheap food. Although the UK’s population accounts for a very small proportion of the world’s – and a dwindling number in the EU – its purchasing power, albeit exercised in generally unfriendly way, still enables it to compete disproportionately in a world market increasingly dominated by the USA, Brazil, Australia and now by India and China. Tesco is becoming a world brand in the style of McDonalds and Coca Cola. Zoonotic scourges in food-producing animals are gaining as much importance in world food markets as droughts, floods, and other variants of adverse weather conditions, pollution, and terrorism. Popular radio programs such as the Archers do a good job in introducing the public to the full significance of our daily bread, quite aside from the antics of celebrity chefs and purveyors of exotic information: the UK’s cereal harvest is beginning to come in; will it need a huge expenditure of fuel to lower its moisture content sufficiently for safe storage and will the British farmer, tuned in to the Chicago future market, opt to sow this autumn’s crop for next year’s harvest for milling or for feed?

4. Impressions and knowledge on some British foods overlook the heavy footprint some leave on ghost acres abroad: the British cow and her British milk are as British as a Ford car assembled in a factory in the UK from components made miles away in the Orient. The modern farmer’s Little Red Tractor may likewise trace its origin to factories far from Dagenham and a long way from the “green” environmental Clydesdale horse fuelled on home-grown oats and yielding a return of splendidly fermented manure. Targets in these balances of thrift and convenience are hard to set objectively, but they and similar allowances must be made for local conditions: sustainability may apply in the grand picture but it is a misleading concept in the variability associated with many aspects of food production and audits of inputs and outputs, flexibility, and CERT-style measurements and the associated priorities.

5. Educational initiatives in the understanding and development of CERT-style thinking and action requires much more challenge to citizens making demands on an already overcharged economy and natural resource. Consumer power must be strengthened to exert an influence at all levels of production and selling and to prompt manufacturers and retailers into R and D for the common purpose. The confusion over some “green” issues must be clarified, e.g. on differential fuel taxing, food miles, travel and the strident into-the-continent demands therewith; entertainment and leisure and the inordinate commercialization that, in effect, lessened thrifty first-hand appreciation of our countryside and farming: and second and holiday homes that upset rural life with scant appreciation of its heritage. These are tricky issues: the light pollution that overhangs our cities is an aura of profligate expenditure required in many instances as a counter to underlying crime, vandalism, and insecurity, the price of which and the value of causes should rank high among audits of carbon emissions and the rewards of civilization.

6. Contributions by NGOs and registered charities to CERT-style debates need strengthened competence and powers of objectivity. At the moment these agents are denied access to sources available to national universities. Restriction to open access literature is avoidably inhibiting and purchase of hard copy and passwords prohibitively expensive. For instance, if our own scientists wish to do a calories-in to calories-out calculation on a potato and the consequent comparisons of methods of cooking we have to pay for use of the British and European Composition of Food Tables, whereas USDA’s equivalent information is on open access. This is an IT matter common – or it should be – to many NGOs needing academic facilities to give of their best in consultations with government departments and agencies, as well as with commercial organisations.  

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