Greens award booby prize for frivolous freight

Délifrance's bakery products are transported by road from the Netherlands to Switzerland (Alpine Initiative) Foto: Alpen-Initiative

A French bakery company, Délifrance, has been awarded a dubious honour for unnecessarily transporting products, by a Swiss environmental group.

This content was published on October 29, 2004 - 20:32

The Alpine Initiative singled out the company for this year’s “Red Devil Stone” as part of its campaign to reduce goods transport on Europe’s roads.

Délifrance transports convenience bakery products from the Netherlands to Switzerland.

Environmentalists say the company is one of many responsible for a dramatic increase in food transports over the past two decades. The result, they say, is more traffic, pollution and accidents on Europe’s roads.

Experts say the trend is influenced by several factors including cheaper transport costs and changing production techniques.

Swiss bakeries and retailers import more than 5,000 tons of bread and pastries every year – about two per cent of the bakery products sold in the country. Imported products of this kind have increased five-fold in the past decade.

Environmentalists say the increased availability of pre-packaged bakery goods – many of which are imported – put pressure on local food producers, who tend to use more sustainable production methods.

Absurd

The Alpine Initiative publicises examples of transports that it considers unnecessary or absurd. It cites a bar in the Italian city of Milan, which is made of ice imported from northern Sweden.

The construction requires 350 tons of ice and the bar has to be rebuilt every six months to replace the melted ice.

Another example is a shrimp producing company in Scandinavia. To keep labour costs low, it has the seafood processed in Morocco before it is deep frozen and transported back to northern Europe.

Even snow has been imported – two years ago, 100 lorry-loads were transported from central Switzerland to the Black Forest region in southern Germany.

Re-exports

The drive to cut costs means that products produced in one country are often sent to another for processing or packaging before being re-imported.

Several Swiss dairy companies, for example, send lorries laden with processed cream to neighbouring Italy or even to Belgium where the cream is packaged and driven back to Switzerland.

Gregor Emmenegger, director of the dairy company, Aargauer Zentralmolkerei, says there is logic behind the seemingly absurd policy.

“It would not make sense if Swiss dairy producers joined forces. We have a contract with a packaging company in Italy which works for dairies in 50 different countries.”

Sustainable

The Alpine Initiative says goods should be transported from country to country only if there are sound sustainable reasons on an economic, social and environmental level.

Observers say this objective is difficult to reconcile with an increasingly globalised economy, where production is shifting to low-wage countries.

Critics say complex regulatory regimes and subsidies also encourage production methods which require goods to be transported over large distances.

One example is agriculture. The transport of cattle in Europe increased 100-fold in the 15 years to 1999.

In 1986 about 3,000 head of cattle were transported on European Union roads. Following the introduction of subsidies, the number increased to 330,000 in 1999. The EU supported these transports to the tune of €117 million (SFr179 million).

Today, an estimated one million animals (excluding poultry) are in transit on the EU’s roads every day.

The Alpine Initiative has proposed slapping a levy on such transports, saying the spiralling amount of road traffic is pushing the mountain environment to the brink of collapse.

swissinfo, Etienne Strebel

Key facts

30% of all lorries on Europe’s roads are empty.
Ten million lorries travel through the Alps every year.
An estimated one million animals (excluding poultry) are in transit on the EU’s roads every day.

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In brief

The Alpine Initiative group was founded in 1989 to protect mountain regions against increasing road traffic through the Swiss Alps.

It started awarding the “Red Devil Stone” prize for “unnecessary” transports in 2002.

Previous winners of the dubious honour are the Swiss retailers Coop and Migros and Nestlé Waters.

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