Study measures impact of food transport on environment

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food

A UK study of the impact on the environment of the food supply
chain attempts to broaden the concept of measuring 'kilometres'
travelled, to include sourcing, production methods, processing and

The four key indicators measured in the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) report are the kilometres travelled by consumers, transport vans, and airplanes, along with the resulting CO2 emissions. The expanded method could eventually be used to determine UK government policy requiring companies to reduce the impact of their logistical decisions on the environment. Other governments have started taking an interest in food miles, the distance products and their ingredients travel before reaching consumers' tables, ever since the UK's environmental department started developing the concept in 2005. "The impact of the environment is complex and variable depending on a number of factors other than transportation including, production methods, sourcing, degrees of processing and packaging,"​ the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stated in releasing the report last week. "Therefore, it is important to consider the relationship between the distance travelled by food and the overall impact on the environment of how food is produced." ​In the latest study, Defra found that air freighting and consumer car use had increased substantially in 2006, which the department says implies an increase in the impacts of food transport on the envirionment. Air food kilometres rose faster in 2006 than preceding years, the report found. Meanwhile, food kilometres rose by seven per cent in 2006 driven by a nine per cent increase in the distance car shopping. The rise follows a seven per cent in urban food kilometres travelled by consumers in 2005. Transport by truck measured by 'food kilometres' declined by three per cent in 2006. CO2 from overseas and UK transport of food for UK consumption increased by five per cent in 2006 primarily due to the increase in air kilometres and now total almost 19 thousand kilotonnes, Defra found. More consumers shopping by car shopping also contributed to the increase. The increase in urban food transport since 2004 is due to more and longer shopping trips by car, Defra found. n 2006, UK van transport food kilometres contributed the most to CO2 emissions. UK van transport accounted for 26 per cent of the emissions, cars for 20 per cent, overseas van transport for 18 per cent, air for 15 per cent and sea for 12 per cent In addition to determining the impact of logistics on the environment, Defra also plans to use the statistics to monitor the impact of the food industry's substainability strategy, published in April 1006. The UK industry published the policy document with the aim of improving the sector's environmental, social and economic performance by encouraging the widespread adoption of best practices. In relation to food transportation the strategy sets industry the task of reducing by 20 per cent the social and environmental costs of domestic food transport by processors themselves. The deadline for the target is 2012. The methodology used for the food transport indicators is based on that outlined in the report "The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development" by AEA Technology Environment, published on the Defra website in July 2005. The report concluded that the major external cost was in terms of road congestion and that a single figure of total number of vehicle kilometres transporting food was too simplistic a mechanism to measure impacts. Food transport can be measured in both vehicle kilometres and tonne kilometres, Defra stated. Vehicle kilometres measure the distance travelled by vehicles carrying food and drink regardless of the amount being transported. 'Tonne kilometres' are vehicle kilometres multiplied by load. For example, a load of 12 tonnes transported 100 kilometres represents 1200 tonne kilometres. Jeff Rooker, the UK minister for sustainable food and farming, and animal issues said the statistics used in the report would help determine transportation policy: "However, transportation is just one element in the foodproduction chain,"​ he stated. "Food miles alone are an incomplete way of judging whetherthe food we eat is sustainable."

Related topics R&D Sustainability

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