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July 18, 2005

Sea Food, See Food Travel

Globalization in action: some locally-caught seafood is now being shipped to China for processing, and then back to the Northwest for sale. This saves on labor costs -- labor is a fifth to a tenth as costly in China as it is here -- but massively increases the amount of energy consumed.

For the most part, I prefer to buy food that's grown or caught locally. But sending locally-caught seafood on an 8,000 mile journey in search of cheap labor definitely strains the definition of "local".

But as long as international markets remain open, transportation remains cheap, and disparities in international labor costs remain wide, we're likely to see more and more of this sort of thing. Which means, unfortunately, that green-minded consumers may have to remain vigilant not just about where their food is grown, but also where it's processed.

Posted by ClarkWD | Permalink


Are the folks on the "100 Mile Diet" aware of this? :-)

Posted by: Jan Steinman | Jul 18, 2005 1:40:36 PM

Well, if you want "local" you shouldn't be buying Bering Sea-caught products anyway. Don't confuse Bering Sea with local. And the story is about Bering Sea seafood products not Northwest products despite the fact that the companies involved are Seattle-based.

In point of fact, Dutch Harbor, the main Bering Sea fishing port is probably just as close to China as it is to Seattle. Look at a globe. In fact, Dutch Harbor is right on the great cicle route almost exactly midway between the west coast and Asia.

I suspect what is really happening here is these companies are playing a game of transfer pricing to avoid paying US corporate income taxes. That's a very old and common game in the seafood industry. The profits are captured by an Asian subsidiary which then pays no US corporate taxes on a product caught and sold in the US.

Posted by: Kent | Jul 18, 2005 1:52:20 PM