LONDON Flying certain foods around the world
may be less environmentally harmful than buying locally, said
Terry Leahy, Chief Executive of the world's third biggest
retailer Tesco, announcing new research funding.
Concerns are growing that a corporate dash to be seen to be
doing something about climate change is causing more harm than
"We're seeing a lot of knee jerk responses," Leahy told
reporters on Wednesday, announcing Tesco's 25 million pounds
($50.89 million) funding over five years of a new "Sustainable
Consumption Institute" (SCI) at the University of Manchester.
"We can pose these questions to the SCI."
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has
dismissed as too simplistic some western consumer calls not to
buy certain air freighted food products.
Blamed for global warming, carbon dioxide is the commonest
greenhouse gas and is a by product of burning fossil fuels, and
the air freight issue hinges on whether energy-intensive
farming in rich nations cancels out the greenhouse gas
emissions of flying products from Africa instead.
"It may be that farming from further afield is actually
environmentally better, we'll have to wait and see the
numbers," said Leahy.
Tesco said in January that it planned to tell its customers
about the greenhouse gas emissions of all its products through
It "will take years" to achieve that across its whole
range, Leahy said on Wednesday, while adding that some carbon
labels would appear in early 2008.
Other unwanted trade-offs in the response to climate change
have emerged from the use of biofuels, derived from plants as a
transport fuel to replace gasoline and diesel.
In Britain, Tesco's fleet of lorries runs on fuel which
comprises 50 percent biodiesel, while it sells a 5 percent
biofuel blend to its customers.
But in a report called "Biofuels: is the cure worse than
the disease?," the Organization for Economic Corporation and
Development (OECD) said on Tuesday that biofuels could cause
worse problems than the fossil fuels they replace.
Those problems included raising food prices by using land
and crops formerly used to produce food, and increased
pollution where biofuels were derived from formerly forested
land cleared by slash and burn.
Tesco hopes to cash in on rising "green" awareness among
consumers, using its economies of scale and marketing might.
"We've got to get a way to use mass marketing techniques in
green consumption because people can't pay more," said Leahy.
The Tesco grant would fund one professor, five academics,
some 20 PhD researchers and up to 30 PhD students, and the
research findings would be made freely available.