Carbon footprints, ‘food miles’ and moves towards local sourcing of food
Larger carbon footprints due to the increasing number of ‘food miles’ travelled, and moves towards local sourcing of food
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 the distribution centre to the supermarket. Food in the UK travels over 30 billion kilometres annually by air, ship, train and road.
A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere due to the activities of humans. A carbon footprint can be based on the activities of an individual, business or country.
Nineteen 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, food production techniques also affect these; for example, heated greenhouses increase carbon emissions.
17% of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK are linked to food, of which 11% are related to transport.
Sometimes, emissions can be more significant in producing food in the UK than 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 unnecessary.
Food transported by plane generates 100 times more emissions than other modes of transport, such as by boat. Perishable food with a high value relative to its weight is more likely to be transported by plane.
To reduce emissions, the volume of food products flown into the UK needs to be reduced and can be achieved by:
• Consuming seasonal produce from the UK.
• Only allowing imported foods that cannot be grown in the UK and limiting the food 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.
• Consuming food produced locally, e.g. from farmers’ markets or farm shops.
• Growing your food in your garden or on an allotment
Trend towards agribusiness
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