Local Food: USDA ERS study looks at concepts, impacts and issues

05/17/2010 04:35:15 PM
Tom Karst

 You will want to check out a comprehensive report on local food systems by the USDA Economic Research Service called “Local Food Systems Concepts, Impacts, and Issues.”

The 87-page report, released in May, features timely discussions of “what is local?” , characteristics of local food demand” and more.

From the report’s summary:

Summary

Consumer demand for food that is locally produced, marketed, and consumed is generating increased interest in local food throughout the United States. As interest grows, so do questions about what constitutes local food and what characterizes local food systems.

What Is the Issue?

This study provides a comprehensive literature-review-based overview of the current understanding of local food systems, including: alternative defi nitions;
estimates of market size and reach; descriptions of the characteristics of local food consumers and producers; and an examination of early evidence on the economic and health impacts of such systems.

What Did the Study Find?

There is no generally accepted defi nition of “local” food. Though “local” has a geographic connotation, there is no consensus on a defi nition in terms of the distance between production and consumption. Defi nitions related to geographic distance between production and sales vary  by regions, companies, consumers, and local food markets.

According to the definition adopted by the U.S. Congress in the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (2008 Farm Act), the total distance that a product can be transported and still be considered a “locally or regionally produced agricultural food product” is less than 400 miles from its origin, or within the State in which it is produced.

Definitions based on market arrangements, including direct-to-consumer arrangements such as regional farmers’ markets, or direct-to-retail/foodservice arrangements such as farm sales to schools, are well-recognized categories and are used in this report to provide statistics on the market development of local foods. Local food markets account for a small but growing share of total U.S. agricultural sales.

• Direct-to-consumer marketing amounted to $1.2 billion in current dollar sales in 2007, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, compared with $551 million in 1997.

• Direct-to-consumer sales accounted for 0.4 percent of total agricultural sales in 2007, up from 0.3 percent in 1997. If nonedible products are excluded from total agricultural sales, direct-to-consumer sales accounted for 0.8 percent of agricultural sales in 2007.


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