Defining Food Miles
“Food miles” is a term that is used to draw attention to the ecological cost of how far food travels from producers to consumers.
Transportation is an important factor in evaluating the environmental impact of food. The resultant carbon emissions make up a significant portion of global carbon emissions and may have an profound effect on climate change.
In the past 30 years, the average distance that food travels on its way to consumers has increased by 25%.
Statistics vary, but some claim that food travels as much as 2,500 miles on average before reaching its end destination. There are a variety of possible causes, but they are generally thought to include globalization and the transformation of markets, the specialization of growing regions, and the rise of processed and packaged foods.
Food and Carbon Emissions
Some analysis looks at greenhouse gas emissions from food across a wider life-cycle, beginning in the production phase, which by itself may account for up to 4/5ths of total emissions from the food industry in the U.S. Whether or not an analysis of “food miles” begins at the farm versus when food leaves the farm makes a drastic difference in the outcome.
There is no standardized process for evaluating carbon emissions from food. However, transportation is certainly an important part of the puzzle–though it is one generally not recognized by conventional thinking. This is why the term food “food miles” was developed: it calls attention to the hidden environmental costs of food.
Even on its own, food shipping is no simple issue. Method of transportation is another important variable to consider; the majority of food is shipped by road, but air transport comprises 1/5th of food shipping, at much higher environmental cost.
In the ongoing organic versus local debate, the distance food has to travel from an organic farm may undermine the environmental benefits of organic growing practices. Buying local becomes of obvious import in this consideration, highlighted by the food miles metric.
* * *[Photo Via: CrawfordFreight]