Food Miles: From Source to Table by Abbie Barnes

Jan 24th, 2013 | By | Category: Youth Blog

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Much of the food we consume travels great distances before reaching the plates in our homes. ‘Food miles’ refers to the distance that food is transported from the time of its production (producer), until it reaches the customer/consumer by boats, planes, lorries or cars.

Since food miles were first observed in the 1990s, it is believed that the increased demand for a wider range of food, and the globalisation of the trade, has lead to the creation of 82% of the overall C02 emissions. In the UK alone, nearly 19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere each year as a result, of which over 2 million tonnes is produced by cars travelling to and from shopping centres. Consequently, food miles have become accepted as a convenient indicator of sustainability.

The main identified causes for an increase in food miles include the concentration of the food supply areas into fewer but larger suppliers, partly to meet demand for bulk year-round supplies of uniform produce. Also, major changes to the delivery methods to supermarkets involve the use of HGVs (Heavy Goods Vehicles), requiring large quantities of fuel. Since 1978 in the UK, the annual amount of food moved by HGVs has increased by 23 percent with the average distance for each trip also up by 50 percent.

Finally, the globalisation of the food industry, alongside increased imports and exports and ever wider sourcing of food throughout the globe and the now centralised and concentrated sales in supermarkets where a weekly shop by car has replaced frequent pedestrian shop visits. All have helped build up food mileage.

It is now highly recommended that as customers we seek to source food produced as locally as possible, where appropriate, such as at local butchers and grocery stores. We should also aim to reduce car food shopping, possibly by seeking home delivery, or walking/cycling to in-town local shops. Where driving is essential, we should work towards reducing transport impacts by having cleaner vehicles and improved logistics. And we should help to improve the wider sustainability of the food chain, by seeking ethical trading and sustainably produced/caught products.

By Abbie Barnes, Volunteer Youth Blogger

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