Saturday, May 9, 2009

Food miles

By Professional editor working for bone china teapot.

Food miles is a term which refers to the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer. It is one dimension used in assessing the environmental impact of food. The concept of food miles originated in 1990 in the United Kingdom. It was conceived by Andrea Paxton, who wrote a research paper that discussed the fact that food miles are the distance that food travels from the farm it is produced on to the kitchen in which it is being consumed (Iles, 2005, p.163). Engelhaupt (2008) states, that "food miles is the distance food travels from farm to plate, are a simple way to gauge food's impact on climate change" (p. 3482). Food travels between 1,500 to 2,500 miles (4,000 km) every time that it is delivered to the consumer. The travel of products from the farms to the consumers is 25 percent farther now than it was in 1980 ("Counting our food miles," 2007). Some scholars believe that the pollution is created due to the globalization of trade overseas; the focus of food supply bases into fewer, larger supplies; the drastic change in the delivery pattern; increase in processing and packaging foods; and making fewer trips to the supermarket. Others state that the GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions are created by the production phases which create 83 percent, 8.1 tons of CO2 foot printing. (Engelhaupt, E., 2008). Recent studies in America and the UK indicate that about 80% of food emissions are produced before the food leaves the farm gate. [1] The goal of the Environmental Protection Agencies is to make people aware of the environment impacts of food miles and show the pollution percentage and the energy used to transport food over long distances, at this time there are researchers that are working to provide the public with more information.


The concept of food miles is part of a broader issue of sustainability which deals with a large range of environmental issues, including local food. The term was coined by Tim Lang (now Professor of Food Policy, City University, London) who says: "The point was to highlight the hidden ecological, social and economic consequences of food production to consumers in a simple way, one which had objective reality but also connotations." [2] However, it has increasingly come under attack as an ineffective means of finding the true environmental impact.[3]

A DEFRA report in 2005 undertaken by researchers at AEA Technology Environment, entitled The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development, included findings that "the direct environmental, social and economic costs of food transport are over 9 billion each year, and are dominated by congestion."

Recent findings indicate that it is not only how far the food has traveled but the method of travel that is important to consider. The positive environmental effects of specialist organic farming may be offset by increased transportation, unless it is produced by local farms. But even then the logistics and effects on other local traffic may play a big role.[citation needed] Also, many trips by personal cars to shopping centers would have a negative environmental impact compared to a few truck loads to neighborhood stores that can be easily accessed by walking or cycling.

Food miles in business

Business leaders have adopted food miles as a model for understanding inefficiency in a food supply chain. Wal-Mart, famously focused on efficiency, was an early adopter of food miles as a profit-maximizing strategy. More recently, Wal-Mart has embraced the environmental benefits of supply chain efficiency as well. In 2006, Wal-Mart, CEO, Lee Scott said, "The benefits of the strategy are undeniable, whether you look through the lens of greenhouse gas reduction or the lens of cost savings. What has become so obvious is that 'a green strategy' provides better value for our customers".[4] Wal-Mart has since made a series of environmental commitments that suggest the company is looking more holistically at supply chain sustainability, such as restricting seafood suppliers to fisheries independently certified as sustainable, a practice that may increase food miles.[4] Still it is undeniable that Wal-Mart's strategy of using supply chains from as far away as China exorbitantly increases greenhouse emissions. They are often criticized for "green washing" and only adopting large-scale green tactics, which make them appear earth-friendly but actually have little positive environmental impact.[citation needed]

Some other alternatives for reducing food miles are to create Co-op grocery stores. A Co-op is a small business strictly owned and managed by its members. The way that this works is that people come together, they create equity and then they purchase their products. They grow organic food and their food miles are drastically reduced. "Choosing to buy organic has value, the hidden costs of shopping increase substantially when road miles are factored in"(Holt and Watson, 2008, p. 321). The first co-op was created in 1844 in England with twenty-eight people. They started out by selling just sugar, flour, butter and oatmeal. Today there are over 47,000 coop corporations in the United States alone. Not only are Co-op markets reducing the food miles, but they are also providing the consumers with healthy food, organic food. The facts and figures for 2005 state that organic foods contains higher levels of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and chromium; and 15 percent lower levels of nitrates (Siner, 1996).

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