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regional food - from afar?

Short transport routes are good for the environment, so regional products sell better than the competition. Yet it remains open what exactly "regional" or "from home" actually means: my city, my district, my state? In fact, many of these foods come from completely different corners of Germany. Here you can find out how regionality is suggested and how you can actually buy sustainably and locally.

Why buy regionally?

Many consumers prefer to buy regional products. There are good reasons for this:

# Freshness and taste. Regionally produced food is harvested ripe and can be purchased shortly after. This guarantees more flavor and a longer shelf life.

# Short transport routes & less CO2. The short distances reduce traffic and CO2 emissions, so they are good for the climate.

# Local economy. Buying regionally supports local producers and strengthens the local economy.

# Good environmental and social standards . Strict standards apply in Germany and Europe; products from unclear origins or from non-EU countries, on the other hand, are often produced under poor conditions for people and the environment.

Infobox

Two thirds of all Germans state that they prefer to buy regional products.

Due to the short transport distances, regional food is more climate-friendly - especially if it is in season at the same time. Otherwise, elaborate product processes (e.g. heated greenhouses) can cancel out the savings.

Regional, seasonal, organic - ideally, these go hand in hand. It is also very important to do your shopping without a car.

What exactly does "regional", "from here" or "from home" mean?

Here is the problem: unfortunately, these terms are not protected by law. Apples advertised as "good from home", for example, may have travelled 500 kilometres on the motorway - this is permitted and not uncommon.

The situation is different for foodstuffs that are advertised with a specifically defined region: "Apples from the Uckermark" or "from the Rhineland" are protected and, if stated, must actually be correct.

This is true at least for fresh fruit or vegetables. With processed foods, there are some tricks that can suggest regionality in a non-binding way:

Supermarket - Buying vegetables
How regional is "from home"?

# Brand name. A brand name like "Sachsenmilch" or "Mark Brandenburg" says nothing about the origin of the product. 

# Processing instead of origin: On some products, only the company headquarters or the processing location is indicated, but not the region where the food was produced. Also the info "Made for . .." says nothing about the origin.

# Quality labels of the Länder. The individual federal states have developed regional seals - but without uniform regulations on what exactly these mean. The quality mark "Quality from Thuringia", for example, stipulates that only 50.1% of the product must actually come from Thuringia.

In the case of foodstuffs that only have a "protected geographical indication", however, only one production stage must originate from this region, i.e. the production or processing. This applies to "Black Forest ham", for example. The "production" step (i.e. seasoning and smoking, etc.) actually takes place in the Black Forest - but the animals lived and died in Denmark.

Seal - Protected Designation of Origin

At least the type of claim can be immediately recognised on the packaging: In both cases, a clear seal is required. 

If you want to go to the fridge right now and check your groceries, you can almost save yourself the trip: There are 79 German products that advertise with a "protected geographical indication" and therefore only one of the production steps is actually done regionally - and only 12 German food products that produce completely locally with a "protected designation of origin".

Seal - Protected Geographical Indication

Why is this problematic?

Anyone who buys "Schwäbische Spätzle" (Swabian spaetzle), which at best are marketed with the advertising text "from the region", actually expects them to come entirely from the region. In reality, however, individual processing steps may have taken place hundreds of kilometres away. 

To check this, the consumer advice centre conducted a random survey in 2015 with 121 foods marketed as "regional". And yes, there were indeed a few foods that were produced remotely nearby. The clear majority, on the other hand, travelled hundreds of kilometres before being sold in the supermarket:

"Mecklenburger Käse" by Rücker, purchased in Schwerin (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), is advertised with a local reference on the product as well as on the shelf ("From our region").
The identity mark: DE TH 632 EG, points to Bedien Concept GmbH in Streufdorf as the last processor. There, the cheese produced in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was processed (cut and packaged) for Rewe. Thus, the cheese "from the region" of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania first travelled to Streufdorf in another federal state (Thuringia) and then covered the distance of 571 kilometres to the point of sale in Schwerin. (Source: Study by the consumer advice centre "Lebensmittel mit Regionalangaben - Verwirrspiel oder wichtige Einkaufshilfe?", 2016)

Thus, the cheese "from the region" first travelled to Thuringia and then 571 kilometres to Schwerin.

"Food with regional indications - confusion or important shopping aid?", 2016

In other cases, only parts of the food actually come from the region:

"Pure pleasure from Bavaria" is advertised on Höhenrainer's turkey wiener. However, this does not refer to the origin of the raw materials (turkey meat), because according to the regional window, this comes from Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. The advertising claims "Schildauer Spezialitäten" (Schildau specialities) also suggest a reference to the origin of the Rostern without casing from Schildauer Fleisch- und Wurstwaren (Schildau meat and sausage products). However, this refers to the place of production, because the pork comes from five different federal states." (Source: ibid.)

How and where to buy regionally?

When buying supposedly regional products in the supermarket, it is therefore important to look carefully and not be deceived. The "regional window", which is now listed on some products, is helpful here. The regional window itself is not proof of regional production, but it does list where the raw material comes from, where it was processed and - in the case of processed products - what percentage of the raw materials come from the region.

Many foods also advertise with regional seals. At first glance, the multitude of initiatives, each with its own specifications, is confusing and difficult to understand. Nevertheless, it only takes a few clicks on the website http://regioportal.regionalbewegung.de to find out exactly what the seal means. If you find out here which initiative comes from your own region, you can look for it in the future.

Weekly market
Shopping at the weekly market is often the most regional solution.

Regional shopping is very easy at the weekly market or in farm shops . Here you can simply ask where exactly the food was grown and processed - both should usually have happened nearby.
However, if you drive to the nearest farm shop, you largely cancel out the transport kilometres you save. It is much better to take the bicycle or walk.

CONCLUSION

Buying food regionally makes sense in many ways. However, it is important not to fall for greenwashing: There are a multitude of ways to suggest local cultivation - without actually producing at home.

The safest thing to do: Pay attention to the specific place of production, shop at organic markets and farm shops and look for food with a regional window.

Encyclopaedia

What is greenwashing?