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Global food miles generate almost 20% of all food-related CO2 emissions

448 days ago

3 minutes

Source: European Commission, Directorate-General for Environment

Food transport in global supply chains is vital to the industry’s success as demand for diverse products increases. New modelling estimates the carbon footprint of food miles to be close to a fifth of all related emissions.

‘Food miles’ are a measurement based on the distance a product travels from farm to fork, or production to consumption. Environmental impact is measured in tonne-kilometre (tkm). Currently, the assessment of food miles is limited, with only a select few food items having a fully quantified food-mile analysis. A new study from The University of the West of England provides a more comprehensive estimate of global food miles and their impact – inputting countries of origin, destination countries, transport distances and food commodity masses.

In its write-up of the study, the European commission shared the following: “When the entire food supply chain was considered in this analysis the researchers found that global food miles equate to about 3.0 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) – higher than previously thought. This indicates that transport accounts for 19% of total food system emissions. The transport of fruit and vegetables contributes 36% of food miles emissions – around twice the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) released during their production. Food miles only contributed 18% of the total freight miles, but the researchers found that the emissions from these made up 27% of total freight emissions, mostly from international trade (18%).

The researchers also estimated the global food-system emissions to be 15.8 GtCO2e, equating to 30% of the world’s GHG emissions. With global food expenditure around US$5 trillion (€4.85 trillion) in 2017 and the global population rising annually, it is useful to consider the impacts of food miles on climate change. The researchers say that this should be coupled with more locally produced food items and add that improved food security through better food-systems management also requires integration of environmental protection targets.”

The reduction of emissions in last-mile deliveries and trips will aid in the de-carbonization of the food industry, with LEV vehicles such as electric cargo bikes offering a proven solution.

For the full study, see: Li, M., Jia, N., Lenzen, M., Malik, A., Wei, L., Jin, Y. and Raubenheimer, D. (2022) Global food-miles account for nearly 20% of total food-systems emissions. Nature Food, 3(6): 445–453. [Online version].

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