The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development

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The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development

The Validity of Food Miles as an

Indicator of Sustainable Development

Paul Watkiss

AEA Technology Environment

paul.watkiss@aeat.co.uk


Background – Food Miles

Food miles = distance from farm to plate

‣ Concerns over increasing food miles

‣ Environmental, social & economic impact

‣ Study commissioned by Defra (2004 - 2006) by

‣ Potential use of food miles as sustainability indicator

‣ http://statistics.defra.gov.uk/esg/reports/foodmiles


Study Objectives

‣ To compile a food miles dataset covering the supply chain from farmer (both

UK and overseas) to consumer ( 1992, 1997 and 2002 )

‣ To assess the main trends leading to increases in food miles around the UK

and overseas

‣ To identify and quantify the economic, environmental and social impacts of

food miles

‣ To develop a set of key indicators which relate food miles to their main

impacts on sustainability

‣ Aim - easily available statistics, updated annually, linked to wider FISS


Why the Increase in Food Miles

‣ Globalisation of food industry - wider sourcing, imports & exports

‣ Concentration of the food supply base - fewer, larger suppliers (yr)

‣ Major changes in delivery patterns

Food through supermarket regional distribution centres, more use larger HGVs

‣ Centralisation and concentration of sales in supermarkets

‣ Switch from frequent food shopping (on foot), to weekly shopping by car

‣ Processing and packaging


Measurement metric

Tonne km

Vehicle km

Air long haul

1%

Air short haul

0%

HGV UK

20%

Rail

Sea

Air short haul

Air long haul

HGV UK

19%

Sea

65%

HGV UK to overseas

6%

HGV overseas

7%

Car

0%

Rail

0%

LGV UK

1%

LGV overseas

0%

Car

48%

LGV overseas

5%

LGV UK

16%

HGV UK to overseas

5%

HGV overseas

7%

Modal variation with metric


Measurement Metric

Tonnes CO 2

HGV UK

Rail

0%

Car

13%

Sea

12%

Air long haul

10%

Air short haul

0%

LGV overseas

2%

LGV UK

6%

HGV overseas

12%

`

HGV UK to

overseas

12%

33%


Key Findings – Significance of Food Miles

Environmental, social & economic burdens from food transport are significant

Food transport accounted for estimated 30 billion vehicle km in 2002

Food transport 25% of all HGV vehicle kilometres in the UK

Food transport produced 19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2002 (2%)

‣ Significant emissions of air pollutants


And significant in economic terms

‣ Direct environmental, social and economic costs of food transport

‣ Costs of congestion

‣ Accidents

‣ Infrastructure

‣ Emissions (CO 2

, Air Pollutants)

‣ Noise

Estimated at £9 billion / year !


Social costs - Split by Mode and by Impact

Mode

Impact

Overseas LGV,

Sea, 138

239 CO2, 364

Overseas HGV,

Air, 41

809

Infrastructure,

Air quality,

UK LGV, 1303

815

439

UK to overseas

Noise, 283

road, 443

Accidents,

2036

UK HGV, 2480

UK car, 3662

Congestion,

5187

HGV dominates infrastructure, noise and pollution, car high congestion and accidents


Study Recommendations

‣ Recommend indicator is needed, but food miles alone is too simplistic

‣ Urban food kilometres – captures car use

‣ HGV food kilometres – captures lorry transport

‣ CO 2 emissions – captures many emissions missing in current inventories

‣ Air food kilometres

‣ Air transport highest CO 2

emission per tonne – 1% tonne km but 11% of CO 2

emissions

‣ Growing extremely quickly

Government accepted recommendations, working to collate indicators


Trends - Higher Car Shopping

Urban car shopping (millions km)

8,000

7,000

6,000

5,000

4,000

3,000

2,000

1,000

0

1992 1997 2002

Urban food kilometres – increase 27% on 1992 – ownership & patterns


Trends - Higher HGV Tonne kilometres

Total tonne kilometres (billions)

250

200

150

100

50

0

1992 1997 2002

Up 36% since 1992, over 100% since 1974


HGV tonne and vehicle kilometres

50,000

40,000

30,000

20,000

10,000

0

1992 1997 2002

6,400

6,200

6,000

5,800

5,600

5,400

5,200

5,000

tonne km

vehicle km

Vkm - Efficiency improvements – larger vehicles and higher load factors


Increased CO 2 emissions - Food Transport

19.5

19

million tonnes CO2

18.5

18

17.5

17

16.5

1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004

Increased by 12% in ten years –opposite of target


Increased Aviation Transport for Food

30

25

million vehicle km

20

15

10

5

0

1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004

Fastest growing mode - > doubled over ten years (140%)


Which means

‣ Valid indicator - that should be measured

‣ In like for like systems, with identical food supply chains, reducing food

transport will improve sustainability

‣ But….

‣ Transport mode is important. Aviation disproportionately high impact

‣ Trade-offs between distance, vehicle size and efficiency

‣ And variation in food chains …..need to consider the wider environmental

social and economic issues and trade-offs with food miles


……(complexities)

‣ Depends on the sustainability of food production

‣ Energy balance Spanish tomatoes < UK out of season

‣ Imported organic (1000 km) < conventional UK

‣ Depends on wider social, environmental and economic issues

‣ Consumer choice and nutrition

‣ Trends affecting UK producers – UK rural economy

‣ International trade and developing countries - - -


Potential policies

‣ Sourcing food more locally where appropriate

‣ Consumer awareness/labelling, public procurement, support local food initiatives

‣ Reducing car food shopping

‣ Home delivery, Support for local and in-town shops, Provision of cycle/pedestrian access

‣ Reducing transport impacts

‣ Cleaner vehicles, Improved logistics, Rail freight

‣ Internalising the social costs of transport

‣ Improving the wider sustainability of the food chain

‣ From energy efficiency to ethical trading


Conclusions

Food transport has increased over the past 20 years

‣ Has direct negative impacts on sustainability through transport burdens

These impacts are significant, and are poorly captured by existing indicators

‣ Single indicator is too simplistic – need to capture a range of impacts

Food transport has a complex relationship to food chain sustainability

‣ Can be valid trade-offs between food chains and food transport

‣ Need to ensure balanced policy, consider ESE across whole food chain

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