Sunday, June 06, 2010


The Cold Chain: Implications for Future Food Supply

Just a half year ago I wrote an entry on the cold chain, which plays a major role in food distribution. If you have never heard of the cold chain, or haven’t given it any thought, you might want to read that post first.

All the refrigerated conveyances and warehouses that make up the cold chain assume (1) there will be an uninterrupted supply of energy to operate the chain, and (2) we’ll be able to afford that energy. But can we be sure of that? Right now in the UK and US, municipalities are turning off street lights. It’s not because there isn’t enough electricity; it’s because they can no longer afford to pay for it.

And the cold chain is supposed to grow. As the above-cited post noted, there are plans to expand the cold chain in developing countries. Further, many new pharmaceuticals require refrigerated shipping and storage. This article, for example, notes that “seven of the top 10 global pharma products in 2014 will require cold-chain handling.” Will the energy for all that new cold-chain capacity be available, and will it be affordable?

It’s often said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Once a few links break here and there in the chain, the distribution of fresh and frozen food will start breaking down. The coming failure of industrialized agriculture will be bad enough, but add to that the breakdown of the cold chain, and it’s clear that the production and consumption of food and medicines need to be relocalized as soon as possible.

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