ESS IA – FOOD MILES AND THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
extent does increase in transport of food (food miles) affect air pollution?
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 miles.”
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 shopping
decisions. 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.
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.
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
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 Bangalore.
“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.
I have carried out a survey wherein I interviewed
people through a questionnaire to know their preferred choice of vegetables at supermarkets.
I 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
Through 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.
Through 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.
In this 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
Independent variable: temperature
Dependent Variable: Transport Facilities and Engines
and Disadvantages of Food miles:
The money earned from the crops can be utilized
efficiently for children and as aid.
Increases air pollution due to cars removing harmful
gases, like global warming.
Importing crops would be a great investment in the
People stop 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 more antioxidants.
Employs a larger segment of people, because all the
fresh produce is being transported to other places.
Countries being more prone to natural disasters.
miles in perspective
The 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”.
Reducing carbon emissions seems to be an excellent idea
by the reduction of food miles, caused by aero planes, trucks, cars, trains.
Usually the bigger food emissions are the most important
when it comes to food miles. 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.
The 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
In fact, what you eat is generally more important
than where it comes from, as is how much you waste.
virtues of eating seasonally
The problem of focusing purely on food miles to reduce emissions
is easy enough to understand. The classic example is the much-loved
In 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.
When you analyze the respective carbon footprints of local and
imported tomatoes it becomes clear that production emissions can easily dwarf
Despite 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.
Similar 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 hydroponic systems.
So 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
By 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.