Daily Express


Beloved of millennial­s but with grave environmen­tal consequenc­es, as Alan Titchmarsh announces a breakfast boycott, is it time Britain’s avo-obsession was smashed?

- By Kat Hopps

SLICED, smashed or pureed, served on sourdough toast, chucked on a sandwich or even blended into smoothies, avocados are the superfood beloved of millennial­s that we’ve all come to adore. In 2017 alone, a staggering 10,000 tonnes of the fruit were imported into the UK. But evidence is growing their cultivatio­n is linked to deforestat­ion, aquifer depletion and even the internatio­nal drugs trade.

Now celebrity gardener and Express columnist Alan Titchmarsh has revealed he refuses to eat avocados for breakfast because of their “enormous carbon footprint”. He is not alone: there is an increasing­ly vocal movement, ranging from celeb chefs and environmen­tal campaigner­s to ordinary consumers, towards cancelling or at least curtailing their culinary use for the good of the planet. In an article for Gardeners’ World magazine, Titchmarsh described eating avocado for breakfast as a “non-starter”. “It seems there is a great movement towards smashed avocado on sourdough bread. I can’t think of anything more insipid to force down my neck at the crack of dawn. And then there are the environmen­tal considerat­ions,” he wrote.

“I cannot reconcile myself to eating avocados and contributi­ng to the enormous carbon footprint involved in shipping them across the ocean to my breakfast table, not to mention the wholesale destructio­n of the rainforest to create such plantation­s.”

The UK’s obsession with avocados began in 2013 as part of the so-called clean-eating fad, which extols the virtues of high protein and low fat and sugar. Due to their high levels of unsaturate­d fats, avocados were quickly championed as a superfood.

Avocados soon became so lucrative they earned the sobriquet “green gold” among producers in some of the world’s poorest countries.

But that popularity has seen their production become a monocultur­e in some areas – with large swathes of agricultur­al land used solely for their growing avocados.

Monocultur­e crops risk sucking the nutrients from the soil, causing a breakdown in fertility over time until it may no longer be viable for agricultur­e.

It also leaves them more susceptibl­e to pests and disease, creating a vicious circle in which farmers become more reliant on artificial fertiliser­s and pesticides.

Such plantation farming also encourages deforestat­ion, as landowners slash and burn the natural landscape to make way for more lucrative avocado trees.

This has the knock-on effect of releasing carbon by the burning of trees, thus exacerbati­ng climate change and causing soil erosion and flooding as well as species loss. Then there is water. Growing avocados takes water, an awful lot of it, and the majority of the world’s supply is grown in countries facing scarcity and erratic rainfall. Mexico is the world’s largest producer of avocados – it is a multi-billion dollar industry for the country – but South Africa, Chile, Peru, Israel and Spain supply the majority of the UK market. Water consumptio­n associated with the UK’s annual avocado intake alone is said to total some 25 million cubic metres – equal to 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“Our insatiable Western appetite for avocado toast means that more and more Mexican land is being turned into avocado plantation­s, meaning less land for local communitie­s to grow food, which also leads to deforestat­ion as plantation­s expand,” says food systems consultant Honor May Eldridge, an expert on avocados who has held senior policy roles with environmen­tal charities.

“Avocados are a very thirsty crop and require huge amounts of water and irrigation. Mexico is already suffering high levels of water stress and experienci­ng terrible droughts.

“Producing huge quantities of avocados for export is further depleting the country of a critical natural resource.”

In the country, producers have been forced to create armed vigilante armies to protect themselves against drug cartels, seeking to seize control of the lucrative

‘The majority of the world’s supply is grown in countries facing drought and erratic rainfall’

trade and extorting farmers and wholesaler­s with the threat of violence. Tancítaro, famous as the world capital of avocado production, shipping a million dollars worth of the fruit every day, suffered years of pitched battles between paramilita­ries and cartel gunmen before calm was restored.

THE city, in the south-western state of Michoacán, had been torn apart by criminal gangs, supplement­ing their drug income by extorting, killing and kidnapping landowners and avocado suppliers and seizing control of plantation­s.

Yet ethical concerns are the tip of the environmen­tal iceberg. The environmen­tal cost of the avocado is also sky-high.

Research conducted by environmen­tal consultant Carbon Footprint in 2017 found an avocado has a carbon footprint of 846g of CO2 in terms of production, packaging and shipping – almost double that of one kilo of bananas at 480g.

Vicki Hird, head of sustainabl­e farming at food alliance organisati­on Sustain, is concerned. “No food, from avocados to sliced white loaf, is without an impact – on nature, climate or workers but where the food source is distant and supply chains highly complex, the dangers can be hidden,” she says. “We need to figure out far better ways to ensure everyone has access to affordable, healthy food that doesn’t trash the environmen­t and one way is to nurture localised, retail that supports sustainabl­e farming.”

Campaigner Angela Terry, founder of the green consumer website One Home, said: “Most vegan food, including avocados, has a lower carbon footprint than animal products such as sausage or bacon. However, the rapid increase in demand – think all those Instagram posts – has led to new plantation­s developing. These have meant some native forest is cut down to grow large numbers.

“This deforestat­ion is bad for wildlife but also for climate change as trees lock up carbon, which is then released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide when forests are burnt.There is also growing demand for water for irrigation of these plantation­s of green gold.

“When it comes to breakfast, porridge is a great winter fuel and one of the best for improving your carbon footprint. In the future, hopefully, fair trade symbols like we see on coffee and chocolate will enable us to buy avocados knowing it is from sustainabl­e production but in the meantime the key advice is to enjoy this yummy snack, just not every day.”

But not everyone believes avocados are among the worst offenders. Dustin Benton, policy director at Green Alliance, an independen­t think tank and charity, says that avocados are “unfairly maligned”. “The challenges with avocados are principall­y where they are grown – they are a reasonably water intensive crop but in general they are pretty low carbon,” he says. “Essentiall­y, all vegetable foods, grains, and anything that is made by a plant is very low carbon unless you fly it. Maybe you should lay off air-freighted avocados but shipped ones are likely to be a source of low carbon food.” Louise Fuchs, of eco-friendly e-grocer Oda which provides carbon receipts for every purchase, agrees: “Yes, avocados have a high CO2 and energy footprint compared to other greens as they require lengthy transport and huge amounts of water – around 2,000 litres per kilo. “However, they are significan­tly less impactful on the environmen­t than other items like red meat which has an even bigger footprint.”

CLARE Oxborrow, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, suggests eating fewer avocados rather than stopping entirely. “Where climate emissions are concerned, what you eat, rather than where it comes from, has the most impact – transport emissions, water, and impacts on land use and biodiversi­ty are all factors,” she says.

“So, the final scorecard is that while avocados have a higher climate footprint than many fruit and veg, they are still far lower than meat and dairy.

“All things in moderation, including avocado, but especially meat.”

So what are the bigger concerns? “Lamb, beef, cheese – and pigs to a certain extent – are what you should pay attention to if you’re worried about carbon emissions,” Dustin Benton adds.

But the most surprising culprits lurk in mangroves. Shrimp farms require vast stretches of land and take between three to six months to reach full size, with the resulting organic waste and chemicals having a devastatin­g effect on local ecosystems.

“The worst thing you can eat are tropical prawns [or shrimps],” Dustin continues. “They are the highest carbon food because of the natural environmen­t they destroy.”

Perhaps compared to that, avocados aren’t quite so bad... in moderation.

 ?? ?? AVOCADO OASIS: An irrigated lush plantation in Chile – with the water-starved land visible beyond it
AVOCADO OASIS: An irrigated lush plantation in Chile – with the water-starved land visible beyond it
 ?? ?? HEALTHY: But demand means ever more land is cleared to grow the crop
HEALTHY: But demand means ever more land is cleared to grow the crop
 ?? ?? GREEN GOLD: The crop is a multi-million dollar business in Mexico. Below, vigilantes protecting an avocado plantation against cartel gunmen
GREEN GOLD: The crop is a multi-million dollar business in Mexico. Below, vigilantes protecting an avocado plantation against cartel gunmen
 ?? ?? CARBON WORRIES: Alan Titchmarsh says avocados are a no-no
CARBON WORRIES: Alan Titchmarsh says avocados are a no-no

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