Distance isn’t dead: An empirical evaluation of food miles-based preference changes

John Ballingall, Niven Winchester
JEL codes: 
NZIER Working Paper 01/09

Food miles measure the distance food travels to reach consumers plates. Although substituting local food for imported produce will not necessarily reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the food miles movement is an intuitively appealing idea to consumers and supported by import-competing producers.

We investigate the economic implications of food miles-induced preference changes in Europe using a global, economy-wide model. We observe large welfare losses for New Zealand and several Sub-Saharan African nations. This suggests that food miles campaigns will increase global inequality without necessarily improving environmental outcomes.

We then consider the implications of our results for New Zealand businesses and government agencies. We conclude that there is an ongoing requirement for careful monitoring of offshore consumer trends and that New Zealand firms need to demonstrate their sustainability credentials to avoid suffering negative demand shocks.