Quantcast
Food
Pexels

Study Uncovers Surprising New Reason to Go Local

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.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals
Two baby Loggerhead turtles. U.S. Air Force / Senior Airman Veronica McMahon

A Record 589 Sea Turtles Killed By Florida's Toxic Red Tide

Florida's longest red tide in more than a decade has killed scores of the state's most iconic marine animals.

The current outbreak, which began in October 2017 off southwest Florida, has been tied to a record 589 sea turtle deaths and 213 manatee deaths, the Herald-Tribune reported, citing figures from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Lake Baikal. W0zny / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Wildlife Under Siege at the World’s Oldest Lake

By Marlene Cimons

Lake Baikal is the world's oldest and deepest lake. It's at least 20 million years old, and roughly a mile deep at its lowest point. The Siberian lake contains holds more water than all the North American Great Lakes combined, what amounts to more than one-fifth of all the water found in lakes, swamps and rivers. It was formed by the shifting of tectonic plates, which created a valley that filled with water. That shift continues today at a rate of around 1 to 2 centimeters year, meaning the world's biggest lake is only getting bigger.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Oil rig operating next to a walk and bike way in the Signal Hill area of Los Angeles. Sarah Craig / Faces of Fracking / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Is Drilling Us Towards Climate Disaster

By Kelly Trout

As the 116th Congress commences, in the wake of dire reports from climate scientists, the debate over U.S. climate policies has taken a welcome turn towards bold solutions. Spurred on by grassroots pressure from Indigenous communities, the youth-led Sunrise Movement and communities from coast to coast fighting fossil fuel infrastructure, Capitol Hill is alive once again with policy proposals that edge towards the scale required to address the crisis we're in.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Bumblebee on goldenrod. Jim Hudgins / USFWS

Half of Michigan's Bumblebee Species in Decline, One Extinct

Honeybees get a lot of attention for their worrisome decline, but many species of bumblebees—which are key pollinators—are also in trouble.

In Michigan, half of its bumblebee species have declined by 50 percent or more, Michigan Radio reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Bound bales of crushed plastic bottles and containers sit stacked ready to be recycled at a recycling center in the Netherlands. Jasper Juinen / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Toward a Circular Economy: Tackling the Plastics Recycling Problem

By Margaret Sobkowicz

Why has the world continued to increase consumption of plastic materials when at the same time, environmental and human health concerns over their use have grown?

Keep reading... Show less
Oceans
Bleached coral at the Great Barrier Reef. The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Richard Vevers

2018 Was the Hottest Year Ever Recorded for Our Oceans

The year 2018 was the hottest year for the planet's oceans ever since record-keeping began in 1958, according to a worrisome new study from international scientists.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, noted that the five warmest years for our oceans were the last five years—2018, 2017, 2015, 2016 and 2014 (in order of decreasing ocean heat content).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
EPA Acting Administrator Wheeler / EPA

Senate Shouldn’t Put Wheeler at the Wheel of the EPA

By Ana Unruh Cohen

As the longest government shut down in history drags on, and the experts protecting our air and water remain off the job, the Senate is barreling forward to put Andrew Wheeler at the wheel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He is unfit for this public trust.

In his seven-month tenure as the acting administrator at EPA, Wheeler's relentlessly pushed to advance the pro-polluter agenda launched by Scott Pruitt, the worst administrator in the agency's storied 48-year history. Wheeler may lack Pruitt's scandals, but he's no improvement.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Westend61 / Getty Images

Top 20 Healthy Salad Toppings

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Salads are typically made by combining lettuce or mixed greens with an assortment of toppings and a dressing.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!