The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
There are lots of ecological reasons to buy local food, from reducing the carbon footprint of the meals you eat to preventing agribusiness' destruction of unique ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest.
But research published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday uncovered another surprising benefit to local agriculture: it is also better for the environment of countries that currently import lots of food.
This is because, when local crops are displaced by cheaper imports, farmland is then drafted into service growing less sustainable crops, with environmental consequences for the importing country.
The study pointed out that its findings go against conventional wisdom, which held that importing countries benefited from global food trade at the ecological expense of exporting countries.
"What is obvious is not always the whole truth," study author and Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability Director Jianguo "Jack" Liu said in an MSU press release. "Unless a world is examined in a systemic, holistic way, environmental costs will be overlooked," she said.
To undertake that systemic examination, the study's authors looked at the international soybean trade.
As the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies explained, Brazil is the world's second-largest producer of soybeans, and its efforts to clear land for that production is a "major driver of deforestation in the Amazon basin."
But the study found that the trade also hurt countries like China, which is the world's largest soybean importer.
As China imported more and more soybeans, local farmers could no longer compete and converted their fields to crops like corn and rice, which require more nutrients to grow and therefore result in an increase in Nitrogen pollution.
The study looked specifically at the highest-producing agricultural land in China, in the country's northeast, and found that the greatest increases in Nitrogen pollution there came from fields that had flipped from soy to rice, followed by fields that had flipped from soy to corn.
Researchers further examined 160 cases on six continents and found Nitrogen levels went up when fields in importing countries switched from soy to other, more demanding crops like wheat, vegetables, corn or rice.
The study's abstract concluded with a call for more research into the environmental consequences of international trade agreements for importing countries,
According to the MSU press release, another potential area of study would be fields in Mexico and South America that have switched from corn to more nutrient-demanding vegetables due to an influx in cheap corn from the U.S. The release noted that changes in crops can also put increased pressure on local water supplies.
"This study underscores the need to pay attention to both sides of international trade not rely on conventional wisdom," Liu said in the MSU press release.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics
The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.
Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.
The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.