Are strawberries from Spain more green than British ones?

Strawberries - is British best?I was alarmed to read an article on the Independent’s site today about local produce and food miles. It refers to a Defra report which says that it is more environmentally-friendly to import certain produce from overseas than it is to grow it here in the UK.

Along with Pimms and Wimbledon, the British strawberry is something to really look forward to in summer. When they come into the supermarkets, I can’t bear to leave them on the shelves.

But the report says that farmers in Britain use energy-intensive, heated greenhouses to grow their strawberries, while in sunny Spain they can be grown without. Getting the strawberries to the UK from Spain does create carbon emissions, but still not equal to the energy which we put into growing them here.

It was news to me that we even use greenhouses for strawberries in the UK. They seemed to grow perfectly well in fields when I used to go strawberry picking/eating as a kid. When did the temperature-controlled greenhouse get involved?

Foreign strawberries don’t taste half as good as ours, so I refuse to buy Spanish instead. There must be some British strawberries on the market which have been grown less intensively, and without the need for heat? It might be tricky to track them down, short of growing them myself, and I haven’t been fantastically successful with growing stuff in the past. A farmers’ market, perhaps?

Another worrying comparison highlighted in the article:

“If transport is taken out of the equation, lamb from New Zealand is a more sustainable choice than that farmed in Britain – with less energy used for farming in a climate where there is less need for feed supplements and heated farm buildings.”

But do lambs really live in heated buildings? Surely they live on hills in the fresh air with the grown-up sheep?

Again, I imagine it’s a matter of farming intensity. If I stick to organic, sustainable lamb, it is less likely to have been produced in an energy-intensive way than cheap lamb.

The report’s conclusion seems confused at the moment, but Defra will apparently recommend new food production policies later this year. In the meantime, I’ll continue to try to scrape together the money for locally-sourced, sustainably-grown, ethically-sound, overly-expensive lamb when I can….

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