What are food miles and carbon footprints?
The distance that food travels from producer to consumer is called food miles. This does not include the distance food travels from the airport to the distribution centre, or distribution centre to the supermarket. Food in the UK travels over 30 billion kilometres each year by air, ship, train and road.
A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of humans. A carbon footprint can be based on the activities of an individual, business or country.
How does importing food increase the UK’s carbon footprint?
19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere by transport used to import food increasing the UK’s carbon footprint. The further food travels the greater the food miles and carbon footprint. However, the food production techniques used also affect these, for example, the use of heated greenhouses increases carbon emissions.
17% of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK are linked to food. Only 11% of this is linked to transport.
sometimes, emissions can be greater producing food in the UK compared to importing produce from other countries. For example, tomatoes grown in a heated greenhouse in the UK release more CO2 emissions than those imported by air from Spain where greenhouses are not needed.
Food transported by plane generates 100 times more emissions than other modes of transport such as by boat. Perishable food that has a high value relative to their weight is more likely to be transported by plane.
What are the alternatives to importing food?
In order to reduce emissions, the volume of food products flown into the UK needs to be reduced. This can be achieved by:
• Consuming seasonal produce from the UK.
• Only allowing imported foods that cannot be grown in the UK and limiting which can be transported by aeroplane.
• Label the origin of food on restaurant menus so customers can make an informed choice as to what they eat. Some supermarkets, such as the Co-operative, only stock British meat, and all supermarkets now use the Red Tractor scheme.
Red Tractor scheme
• Consuming food that has been produced locally e.g. from farmers’ markets or farm shops.
• Growing your own food in your garden or on an allotment