Japan’s New Green Outlook Takes On The Mileage Of The Food Source

Harris Teeter may be stretching the concept of local food more than most, and industrial agriculture may be making efforts to go green, but with the 100 Mile Diet still going strong as a cultural phenomenon, the idea of labeling how far our food has traveled makes a certain amount of sense. The idea is catching on in Japan—with a new scheme just being launched to label products by weight and distance traveled. But is there a danger it could be a distraction?

According to Japan for Sustainability, the Palsystem Consumers’ Co-operative Union, a Japanese home delivery service provider that primarily serves local farms, has launched a new scheme to label food miles on products using ‘POCO’ units – the distance traveled to market, multiplied by the weight of the product. (The scheme is also being promoted by the Tsucione Cafe—Japan’s first ‘food miles’ cafe, pictured above.) The idea, it says, is to reduce transport-related CO2 emissions, and to bolster Japan’s food security and self-sufficiency. There should be no argument that such schemes can help toward the latter goals, but whether or not they actually reduce CO2 emissions is a slightly more complex issue.

The trouble is, food miles are just one part of the puzzle. Even just related to the transportation footprint, it is equally important to know how a food was transported as it is to know how far—was it flown by air-freight, trucked by road, or shipped by rail, or a combination of the above? In America, studies have already shown that the carbon footprint of wine from Europe may be lower when drunk on the East Coast, than wine from California, and similar studies have shown CO2 from local tomatoes grown in heated greenhouses may trump the emissions involved in shipping them in from a warmer climate.

That’s not to say local food labeling has no value. As Lloyd has argued local food is about much more than CO2, and particularly when combined with an effort to promote seasonal, sustainably grown foods, such labeling can only help us get a better picture of our food and where it comes from.


Image credit: The Association to Preserve the Earth, via Japan for Sustainability