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Independent: Cost of food grows to 18m tons of carbon dioxide

Cars, lorries and planes are emitting a record 18 million tons of carbon dioxide a year transporting food around Britain, new figures from the Government showed yesterday.

A jump of 6 per cent was recorded in the number of "food miles" by road and air in 2004, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The figures will heighten concern about the damage done by the supermarkets' policy of flying in products like sweetcorn from Thailand, prawns from Ecuador, or apples from New Zealand. They are also a blow to the Government's commitment - made in its Food Industry Sustainability Strategy earlier this year - to cut the social and environmental costs of food miles on 1990 levels by 20 per cent by 2012.

Environmental campaigners said the figures showed ministers should be doing more to curb emissions of carbon dioxide (Co2), which causes climate change, which has been blamed for this summer's extreme heat.

Food miles are clocked up by air freighting produce often thousands of miles to the UK, trundling lorries round the motorway network and by customers travelling to and from shops.

Amid the rise of the supermarket chains and the all-year round stocking of fruit and vegetable varieties, Co2 emissions from food miles have soared in the past decade. They rose by 15 per cent from 1992 to 2002 and by a 4 per cent between 2002 and 2004, according to Defra.

by Fran on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 02:07:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bullet points from the bottom of the article:


  • Food miles cost the country £9bn every year in delays, pollution and road accidents.

  • Lorries did 5.5 million miles in food miles in 2004, according to Defra, while cars did 4.2 billion.

  • Air travel was responsible for 17 million miles but it has been rising fast. It rose by 136 per cent from 1992 to 2002. Between 2002 and 2004, it rose 31 per cent.

  • Some products are flown 12,000 miles to supermarkets.

  • In a survey last year, Greenpeace found two-thirds of apples on sale at supermarket had been air-freighted from abroad - at the height of the British apple growing season.

One complaint: not a word about Europe. (For example, British apple-growing season = European apple-growing season). You once again get the impression the UK is a flying island that is not part of the EU.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 05:04:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is a "food mile"? If I drive a mile with a boot-load of groceries and a lorry drives a mile with several tons of groceries, are they both a "food mile"?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 05:24:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is really a quibble about local distribution. The real problem is the long distances food is transported, and in particular the rapid growth in air transport.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 06:17:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
According to the article the computation includes the miles accrued by people driving to the grocery store, which I think won't be a negligible fraction of the total miles, even if they are a negligible fraction of the tonne-miles.

Well, so tax air fuel.

If you go to google Defra and "food mile" you'll find a recent report showing that "food miles" are an inadequate indicator.

How about tonnes, mile-tonnes and miles?

Finally, in the vein of our biofuels calculation, if the UK wanted to be self-sufficient in food, would they have enough land?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 06:27:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Finally, in the vein of our biofuels calculation, if the UK wanted to be self-sufficient in food, would they have enough land?

According to gov statistics the UK is 60% self-sufficient - a much higher percentage than I was expecting.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 08:33:09 AM EST
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As for biofuels, it would be a question of self-sufficient in what kind of food. Stop producing so much meat and bad dairy (at least, intensively), and a lot of area would be freed...

I see your point about the food-miles unit. Not much use.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 12:46:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a minor point, but there are regular complaints that it is very rare to see a British apple on sale in a British supermarket. Even at the height of the British apple season.

And I don't like european dessert apples. I don't seem to be alone in this. Golden delicious are anything but delicious, so bland it's hard to object to them unless you actually wanted fruit that tastes of something.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 06:18:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Golden Delicious are in fact delicious, the crap that is mass-produced, picked too early, and cold-stored to death (it's a long shelf-life fruit if suitably mistreated), gives the variety a bad name.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 21st, 2006 at 12:52:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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