– FOOD MILES AND THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
To what extent does
increase in transport of food (food miles) affect air pollution?
CANDIDATE CODE: gnd760(003157-0052)
SESSION: MAY 2018
TABLE OF CONTENTS
miles are miles over which a food item is transported during the journey from
producer to consumer, as a unit of measurement of the fuel used to transport
The food miles’
concept, originating in the UK and given much prominence in the news media, has
been used to imply that importing food from distant countries is inherently
more wasteful than growing and consuming local produce. What impact is this
potential non-tariff barrier having on consumer buying behavior in UK
supermarkets? Revealed preference surveys in four supermarkets show only 10% of
300 consumers nominated country-of-origin as one of the reasons for choosing a
fresh food item they had just purchased. Furthermore, only 5.4% indicated that
they had consciously chosen British products for the reason that such produce
was “less harmful for the environment.” In contrast, stated preference surveys
in the street found that 18.5% indicated that “food miles” or “the long
distance it travels” would stop them buying New Zealand products. What people
say may differ substantially from what they actually do in regard to “food
According to a Mintel survey in
2007, 40% of adults would like to have have more information on how far food
has travelled, and 19 % say they are using country of origin labelling to make
Most Britons do not care where the fruit and vegetables they buy come from, are
not motivated to buy British and don’t consider ‘food miles’ in their
purchases, according to a new survey.
the survey of 997 people, 61 per cent are not concerned which country their
produce came from, with only 9 per cent describing themselves as ‘very
concerned’ and 30 per cent ‘fairly concerned’ about the issue.
54 per cent of the over-50s said they regularly or always buy produce grown in
this country, just 32 per cent of 25-34s do so.
only 36 per cent of shoppers know what ‘food miles’ are – the distance goods have
travelled to reach the British shops, which is a big issue to environmental
over half those surveyed, 52 per cent, believe the UK should import less food
so that the environmental damage is limited, even if there is less variety in shops
and food costs more as a result. But 23 per cent think this country should
maintain – or even increase – imports of food, in order to preserve variety and
keep costs low.
The conventional argument given by environment champions is
that longer the transportation distance read food miles, the more is the energy
consumed leading to burning of more fossil fuel and consequently leading to
emission of more GHGs into the air, which causes global warming. The obvious
logical solution provided by such environment campaigners is to source food
from a nearby place so that the distance traversed from the point of origin to
the point of consumption can be minimized. Sourcing locally produced food would
obviously reduce the transportation distance and hence the amount of fuel burnt
but does this really mean that growing food items locally would reduce the
overall carbon footprint of the planet.
Road transportation factor
As we see
that most of the emissions which contribute to the global warming happen due to
road transport because of release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide
and carbon monoxide. About two thirds of the worlds carbon footprint is caused
through road food transportation. Transportation by air produces the highest
carbon footprint per unit but considering the relatively lower volume this
leads to only 20% of the world’s carbon emission towards food transport. The
rest of the carbon emissions produced is caused by other modes such as rail and
According to people of India, CHENNAI: “A cup of yogurt travels 2000
kms before it reaches a customer. Such food miles are unnecessary,” said
Vanaja Ramprasad, an organic farmer and bio-diversity expert, based in
“Moving food and flowers across the
gable merely add to carbon foot prints and when global warming is a serious
concern engaging governments, global imports of perishables is an issue that
needs more serious research and analyses,” she added.
have carried out a survey wherein I interviewed people through a questionnaire
to know their preferred choice of vegetables at supermarkets.
visited two malls – Inorbit mall and Infinity 2 mall both in Malad, Mumbai. My
main purpose to visit these malls is because of the presence of giant
hypermarkets such as Big Bazaar and Star Bazaar.
secondary research, I gathered and analyzed data from the past which dealt with
consumer taste and preferences for vegetables and other food items, in Mumbai.
this research I can confidently say that the carbon emissions have been rising
drastically through the last few decades due to food mile transportation. These
carbon emissions lead to global warming which can be harmful for the
environment. Thus having an eco-centric mindset, could enable us to drastically
reduce or gradually stop consuming food products from outside the country of
origin because this can help reduce global warming to a large extent.
assessment the independent variable is the temperature and the environment
whereas the dependent variable is the transport facilities and engines leaving
out harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide.
Variable: Transport Facilities and Engines
Disadvantages of Food miles:
earned from the crops can be utilized efficiently for children and as aid.
air pollution due to cars removing harmful gases, like global warming.
crops would be a great investment in the future.
eating the food items from their country of origin. Though the production or
growth of food items from the country of origin is always fresher and has
larger segment of people, because all the fresh produce is being transported
to other places.
more prone to natural disasters.
miles in perspective
concept of food miles, the distance food travels before being consumed, dates
back to a 1994 report called “The Food Miles Report: The
dangers of long-distance food transport”.
first glance reducing food miles seems an excellent way to reduce carbon
emissions, because it limits emissions caused by planes, trucks, boats and
trains moving food.
most important thing to remember about food miles is that they are only part of
the bigger food emissions story. A person’s footprint is
actually dominated by production emissions, and food transport makes up just a
tenth of food emissions up to the point of sale.
different studies have verified this, perhaps the best of which is the 2008
paper by Weber and Matthews, Food-Miles and the Relative
Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States. Their
analysis of US food emissions found 83% of carbon emissions in the food system
result from food production, 5% from wholesaling and retailing food, and 11%
from transporting it.
Perhaps most interestingly,
just 4% of total emissions were final delivery transport from the producer to
the retailer, which is what most people think of when they talk about food
point is food miles are only a small part of a very large food emissions story,
so focusing on them in isolation isn’t necessarily helpful if your goal is to
cut your food print.
fact, what you eat is generally more important than where it
comes from, as is how much you waste.
virtues of eating seasonally
problem of focusing purely on food miles to reduce emissions is easy enough to
understand. The classic example is the much-loved tomato.
cooler climates like northern Europe, Canada and the north states of the US
people eat tomatoes all year round, despite the local weather not
being conducive to growing them. Winter tomatoes in these
places are either hot housed locally, using significant amounts
of energy, or imported from warmer climates like Spain or Mexico.
you analyse the respective carbon footprints of local and imported tomatoes it
becomes clear that production emissions can easily dwarf transport emissions.
travelling a greater distance Spanish tomatoes imported to Sweden have a far
smaller footprint than locally grown ones. This is because the emissions
generated to heat and light greenhouses in northern Europe far exceed the
transport emissions of bringing tomatoes in from Spain.
results have been found when comparing out of season English tomatoes to
Spanish imports, although there are also some noble exceptions to
this rule. For example, both in Sweden and England it is possible to get
winter tomatoes raised using waste heat, renewable energy and highly efficient
does this mean targeting food mile is a complete waste of time? Not
completely. But if your motivation for eating more local food is carbon
emissions, then it is better to try to eat seasonal local food.
eating food that is both in season and local you can be more certain that both
production emissions and transport emissions are limited. You can often
avoid them being refrigerated in stores too. Even more importantly,
seasonal food just tastes so much better.