Going the distance

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Related tags: Carbon dioxide emissions, Carbon dioxide

Going the distance
The term 'food miles' is a phrase often bandied about by the food industry, but is it an issue that's taken seriously?A recent Department for Food,...

The term 'food miles' is a phrase often bandied about by the food industry, but is it an issue that's taken seriously?

A recent Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) report would suggest not. The report found the current social and environmental costs of transporting food are around £9bn a year and that in the last 30 years the distance food travels has increased by over 50%.

Several factors have contributed to this huge increase: the globalisation of the food industry; the concentration of food supply into fewer, larger suppliers to meet demand for year-round, uniform produce; the centralisation of supermarket buying; and the arrival of regional distribution centres.

Manufacturers claim that they are giving consumers what they want, but what about the 19.1Mt of carbon dioxide emissions (2002, DEFRA survey), which make up 1.8% of the annual UK carbon dioxide emissions being released into our atmosphere? The travelling doesn't do much for fresh produce's nutrient content either - spinach transported at room temperature, for example, loses 50-90% of its vitamin C content within 24 hours.

Often, transporting food is unnecessary. A recent study showed pre-packed sandwiches were routinely transported 450km from France to sell in UK cafes and shops.

Or how about the soft drink manufacturer who is happy to claim it flies fresh oranges into the UK from South America on a daily basis, rather than juice them at the growing site, reducing the weight of cargo and therefore air miles? Then there's the bottled water which is flown 1,000 miles to the UK.

Many consumers share concerns about food miles, but are helpless without real information. Why not introduce labelling with a rating system, taking into account not only distance travelled but also indicating damage caused to the environment?

Joanne Finney​ is a writer at Good House Keeping

Related topics: NPD

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