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Or at least it does according to that bible of business The Economist. Barbara Panvel takes up her fair trade cudgels.

The NEC management, slated in The Stirrer recently for not offering visitors Fairtrade products, might well feel justified by an onslaught in The Economist, which persuasively argues that ‘ethical shopping harms the world', devoting five of its expensive pages in a recent edition to this subject.

The magazine fears and deplores the ‘rising tide of protectionism' - most clearly evident in the United States of America - and the growth in sales of local, organic and Fairtrade food. The insatiable are alarmed at the reduction in profits caused by the growing demand for food which is less contaminated, supports local producers and gives a better deal to producers in poorer regions.

Some would say, “If you can't beat them, join them . . .” but the practices of growing local food, producing fruit vegetables and meat organically and paying the poor coffee farmer a guaranteed price are not of interest to the insatiable because they offer a relatively small profit.

By preferring local, organic or Fairtrade food, The Economist asserts that the consumer is helping to destroy the rain-forest, is increasing pollution and energy use. and is reducing the efficiency of that perfect economic system, the world market.

The Economist articles debunk the buying of organically grown food for relying on crop rotation, manure and compost: producing the world's food in this way would require several times as much land as is currently cultivated - there wouldn't be much room left for the rainforest.

Completely disregarded is the work of Professor Jules Pretty and team, proving that in the developing countries, which have warmer climates and the possibility of several harvests each year, organic food actually produces up to ten times more food after the conversion period.

Also disregarded is the work of the Pesticides Action Network, exposing the fearful illnesses and deaths from the use of pesticides in large-scale food production and the work of researchers and doctors such as Peter Mansfield in pin-pointing the effects on health, which includes the growth of allergies in susceptible people with weakened immune systems due to exposure to toxic chemicals in many forms, and the diminished health and vitality of the nation coinciding with the decline in food nutrients

Propping up the price of Fairtrade food, The Economist states, encourages farmers to produce more and so depresses prices. It rightly notes that only a small fraction of the mark-up actually goes to the farmer - most goes to the retailer. But that practice is required and sanctioned by the very market system which it extols

A DEFRA report is cited when considering the benefits of buying local food. The report asserts that it is better for the environment to truck in tomatoes from Spain during the winter than to grow them in heated greenhouses in Britain - ignoring the better option of buying vegetables which are in season.

DEFRA also speculates that a shift towards a local food system might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being travelled locally, because goods would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles.

The best reply to date has come from Karen Leach - co-ordinator of Localise West Midlands. She points out that over the years a higher and higher proportion of the market has been drawn into the hands of supermarkets, disrupting the local supply chain and causing the deaths of many local independent businesses - leading to a situation where a farm shop is, in many instances, further away from the consumer than their supermarket.

Her vision - shared by many - is one of rebuilt local supply chains for food, services and other production, with money recirculating within the region. A degree of self-sufficiency would cater for local people's immediate needs and longer distance trade would be a secondary activity.

As she says, people all over the world - rich, poor, urban,rural -want to enjoy the economic, social and environmental benefits of alocal economy based on thriving farms, shops, services and other production.

Will consumer confidence be destroyed by emerging research reports, funded by corporate heads who cannot stand idly by whilst a system giving them immense financial profits is undermined?

The Economist exhorts those who care about the environment, boosting development and reforming the global trade system to achieve beneficial change by political activity - they do so, safe in the knowledge that those in the inner circle of political power, once safely elected, move on to serve other masters.

Do you care about buying fair trade or locally produced goods? or just go for what's cheapest. Leave a comment on our messageboard.

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