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Last Updated: Friday, 21 December 2007, 09:06 GMT
What's in your basket?
Shopping for groceries with sustainability in mind can raise a range of issues - from environmental pollution to animal welfare.

As part a week of special programmes, BBC News is exploring the global food supply chain and its impact on the environment. Select an item on the basket of food below to find out some of the issues involved.

orange juice Milk Chicken Cooking Oil fish fruit and veg beef Sugar

    Orange Juice

    Issues: Environment / fair trade / food miles

    Pesticides are frequently used on orange groves, which can have implications for biodioversity in the area.
    Brazil produces a third of all oranges in the world, of which 85% are used for orange juice. Oranges in Brazil are frequently picked by children who work long hours for little pay.


    Sustain suggests consumers look for fairtrade orange juice, which has been grown and marketed according to strict regulations on minimum labour and environmental standards.
    Organic producers use different techniques to grow oranges without synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.


    Issues: Environment / animal welfare / food miles

    Demand for high milk productivity is a cause for concern when farmers are producing surplus milk. Intensive farming also raises questions about animal welfare, over-use of drugs, loss of biodiversity, and transport emissions.
    High yield cows require extra feed, including grain and soya imported from overseas. Dairy farm intensification and amalgamation has led to the loss of rural employment. The number of farming jobs in dairy farming areas has fallen.

    Sustain suggests trying to buy small quantities of high quality produce and regional cheeses and local organic produce.


    Issues: Environment / animal welfare / health

    About 98% of all "broiler" chickens - birds processed for meat - are reared in intensive indoor systems. Less than 2% are free-range or organic. They often live in cramped conditions and may suffer leg problems due to rapid weight increase.
    Broiler litter spread on agricultural land can pollute the environment.
    Air pollution in broiler houses can cause breathing problems for the animals and workers.

    Sustain recommends free-range and organic systems and producers' whose practices that have been approved by welfare organisations such as RSPCA Freedom Foods.

    Cooking Oil

    Issues: Environment

    Vegetable oil: Soya bean production, the largest source, is linked with concerns about deforestation and the impact of GM soya on biodiversity.
    Olive oil: Grown mainly in Mediterranean and blamed for soil erosion, mainly due to poor management and over-intensification of groves.
    Palm oil: Found in 10% of products sold in UK supermarkets. Plantations are a key cause of rainforest clearance as oil palms are planted in recently-cleared areas.

    Sustain recommends buying oil from sustainable sources. GM producers say modified crops can deliver higher yields on poorer soils.


    Issues: Environment / fish stocks / food miles

    Overfishing is the greatest threat to marine wildlife and habitats. Many fish stocks are in a state of serious decline.
    Quotas can mean undersized or over-quota fish are discarded, dead.
    Methods such as bottom trawling can have a damaging impact on the seabed and other methods can kill non-target species such as birds or dolphins.

    The Marine Conservation Society identifies fish species that are most 'at risk' and those with healthier stocks, such as dab or herring. Campaigners recommend buying fish only if caught by sustainable methods from healthy stocks.

    Fruit and vegetables

    Issues: Environment / food miles

    Pesticide use to prevent crop damage raises concerns about residues left in food and threats to biodiversity. Carrot crops, for example, host insects which provide food for other wildlife.
    More vegetables are being imported from around the world and are travelling nearly 60% further on UK roads than in the 1970s, mainly due to centralisation of supermarkets' food distribution systems, adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

    Buying loose vegetables means less transportation and packaging.
    Buying local, seasonal produce reduces emissions linked to refrigeration, polytunnels and transport.


    Issues: Environment / animal welfare / food miles

    Increased productivity has increased consequences for the environment, public health, animal welfare, waste and emissions from transport.
    Intensively-reared cattle are fed diets rich in protein and energy. In Britain, about 338,000 hectares are used for growing feed for beef cattle. For every acre of feed farmed in the UK two more are farmed overseas to meet the UK industry's needs.
    Cows and sheep also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions - emitting high levels of methane.

    Traditional grazing systems can be vital for wildlife sites. Sustain recommends supporting local, non-intensive farmers where possible.


    Issues: Environment / fair trade / food miles

    Nearly 83% comes from cane, the rest from beet.
    Cane sugar production has led to loss of wildlife biodiversity, pollution, soil erosion and coral reef damage. But production is becoming more sustainable.
    Workers on plantations are often paid low wages.
    Pesticide use on sugar beet plantations is high. Pesticide use is reported to have added to general decline of biodiversity in UK farmland areas.

    Sustain reccommends buying fairtrade-certified products, to ensure a fairer deal for poorer producers. Buying organic will benefit the environment.

Recommendations for how to shop more sustainably includes advice from the Sustain alliance for better food and farming.



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