In 2002 Caroline Lucas asked questions about the globalisation and intensification of agriculture in a report co-written with LWM’s Colin Hines. 

A key question was the extent to which this type of farming increases the risk of disease. With the closure of the majority of small, locally based abattoirs over the last decade, farmers have increasingly been forced to transport livestock long distances. This not only has major implications for animal welfare, it also makes it far more likely that infection will spread. 

She saw the opportunity, in the wake of Foot and Mouth, to create the conditions for a less intensive farming future, with local markets and supply chains. 

The countries of the EU should reduce imports, ending the huge and ongoing ‘food swap’ of the same or similar products. Britain imported 240,000 tonnes of pork in the same year that we exported 195,000 of pork. We imported 125,000 tonnes of lamb while exporting 102,000 tonnes and, even more bizarrely, we imported 61,400 tonnes of poultry meat from Holland while exporting 33,100 tonnes to Holland in the same year. 

Up-to-date figures can be seen in Global Food Swap, a paper by Rianne ten Veen. 

The environmental costs of food distribution include air pollution and the environmental impacts associated with the extraction and use of crude oil and other resources required for air, sea, rail and road transport fuel, vehicle construction and transport infrastructure. 

Caroline insisted that more must be done to support local food economies, shorten the supply chain between farmers and consumers, and end the unprecedented power of supermarkets to set farm-gate prices. 

Her message was reinforced today

 Olivia Midgley reports that a study by scientists from the UK Research Councils’ Rural Economy and Land Use Programme [RELU] has said that increasing global trade may put us at greater risk from pathogens, threatening our food supplies and health. 

Director of the Relu Programme, Professor Philip Lowe said: “In many cases the spread of disease is caused by increased trade, transport and travel. Trends in the international horticultural industry have been towards fewer, larger producers, supplying vast numbers of retailers. Thus, disease which begins in one location may be spread far and wide.” 

To some extent they have found that the process is already happening: the number of new fungal, bacterial and viral diseases in plants appearing in Europe has risen from less than five per decade to over 20. He concludes: 

“Ultimately we may have to take a more precautionary approach to the movement of animal and plants, and recognise that free trade could, in some cases, pose unacceptable risks.” 

This study, and the Lucas/Hines 2002 research, indicate that reducing the global trade in food and strengthening rural economies, would decrease the risk of disease, reduce fuel consumption and environmental damage.