Food Miles: The Environmental Impact of Food
Remember the days when the first strawberries of the year were the ones shown on television at Wimbledon? How times have changed, for now all kinds of exotic fruits and foodstuffs are available the year round at our local supermarket – flown perhaps thousands of miles around the world so that we can have blueberries for breakfast in winter if we wish.
But what is the environmental impact of these so called ‘food miles’ and how does it affect us?
What Are Food Miles?Food miles are the distance a certain food has to travel from its point of origin to its point of destination – i.e. our kitchen table.
It was a phrase coined by Tim Lang, renowned professor of food policy at London’s City University, known for his groundbreaking work in many areas of food, health, and environmental impact.
Food Mile Facts
- 95% of our fruit comes from abroad.
- Half of our vegetables are imported.
- 30% of all goods transported by lorry around the UK are foodstuffs.
- Food imports increased from 13.5m tonnes in 1992 to just over 16m tonnes by 2002.
- Whilst only 1% of food is transported by air, it accounts for 11% of carbon emissions.
- Rainforest the size of ten football pitches is felled every second, some of which to make room for exported food crops.
- Since 1992, the amount of food flown by ‘plane has risen by 140%.
Air FreightThe least environmentally friendly way to import and export food is by air and yet is the most quickly expanding method of transporting food.
Due to the huge amount of greenhouse gasses given off by aircraft, two main supermarkets have labelled food imported in this way with dedicated labels, to give customers the chance to make an informed choice about the food they buy.
However, the arguments have become complex with time, and there is much more to consider than solely the C02 emission factor. One million African workers now depend on fruit and vegetables specifically grown for the UK market and without with they would struggle to survive.
Lorry Loads Of FoodThe most common form of transporting food once it’s reached the country of destination is by lorry. 25% of all journeys made in the UK will be taking food from destination to destination until it’s stacked on a supermarket shelf near you. These journeys account for 25% of CO2 emissions.
It has been stated that if we all endeavoured to buy food originating from within a 20km radius from our locality, the country would save over two billion pounds in congestion and environmental costs.
What Can We Do?There are several simple steps we can take to help reduce the environmental impact of food miles on the environment:
- Shop locally and if possible, leave the car at home.
- Plan one big trip if using a large supermarket instead of going two or more times per week.
- Buy fair-trade goods which support third world communities and are usually transported by sea.
- Buy fresh seasonal produce grown locally.
- Buy food with as little packaging as possible.
- Buy organic produce.