Food miles is defined as the number of miles (kilometres) a product has to be transported from the farmer/grower to various stages of production until it reaches the supermarket and finally the plate of the consumer.
This study suggests that considering the energy use and carbon dioxide emissions associated with transportation and production paints a more accurate picture of the carbon footprint of a product than considering transportation (food miles) alone. Their results indicated that:
- The UK uses twice as much energy per tonne of milk solids produced than New Zealand (NZ), even after including the energy used in transporting NZ dairy to the UK. This is because the UK has a more intensive production system than NZ, and requires more energy to produce dairy.
- The UK uses four times as much energy to produce lamb than NZ does, even after including the energy used in transporting NZ lamb to the UK.
- The UK uses 1.6 times as much energy to produce apples than NZ does, even after including the energy used in transporting NZ lamb to the UK.
New Zealand has greater production efficiency in many food commodities compared to the UK because:
- NZ agriculture tends to apply less fertilisers (which require large amounts of energy to produce and cause significant CO2 emissions)
- NZ animals are able to graze year round outside eating grass instead large quantities of brought-in feed such as concentrates.
Local UK food isn’t always the most sustainable option.
“If you want to wipe out all the food miles in what you eat, all you need do is swap one day’s red-meat eating a week to white meat. Not even to a vegetarian diet. Just to white meat.” Professor Tim Benton, UK Champion for Global Food Security.
Wouldn’t choosing the most sustainable products be easier if every product stated its carbon footprint on its label?