A team of five senior government officers and private sector players will next week meet executives of the UK-based Tesco supermarket chain over the raging food miles controversy. The controversy that threatens to reduce horticultural produce is hinged on carbon emissions by planes flying the exports to UK.

The Permament Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Romano Kiome, said the ministry has prepared a paper which articulates the Government's position on the matter to be presented at the meeting.

The development comes after Tesco threatened to reduce procurement of horticultural produce from Kenya due to carbon emissions concerns. The food miles debate is based on the assumption that the longer an aircraft flies the more carbon emissions reach the atmosphere. This means air freighting food from Africa to the UK contributes to environmental pollution. Kiome said though health concerns cannot be ignored, the campaign is fueled by business rivalry than environmental concerns.

"Carbon emission from planes exporting the foodstuff to Europe is far less than the gases emitted by European farmers growing flowers in green houses," Kiome said during a media briefing in Nairobi.

Kiome said the Government with support from international non-governmental organisations was carrying out research to show there was more carbon emission from green houses than planes.

The Kenya Flower Council chief executive officer Mrs Jane Ngige, who is also scheduled to fly to London, said the team would seek to avert the proposed labeling of products imported from developing countries. Environmental lobbyists want all food imported to be labeled so that consumers can be aware of the pollution caused by air transport.

"Our concern is that other retailers in the European Union may follow Tesco's foot steps," she said. She said labeling would join the long list of non-tariff barriers that most developing countries are fighting to eliminate through the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Over 150 countries are negotiating for a transparent and balanced global trade regime through the WTO.

Others in the team include the Export Promotion Council Chief Executive Officer Mr Matada Wabuyele, Mr Benjamin Sogomo of Horticultural Crops Development Authority, Dr Stephen Mbithi (Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya) and Dr Chagema Kedera (Kenya Plants Health Inspectorate Service).