The Cost of Food Miles

December 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm. 365 Menus.

Teacher’s notes
Very little of the food we eat is produced locally. The produce in our shopping baskets might include apples which have travelled 14 000 miles from New Zealand or prawns which have been transported 13 000 miles since they were caught in Bangladesh. Animals are being transported over longer distances before being slaughtered, adding to their suffering and increasing the risks of spreading disease.

The environmental costs of transporting food over ever-increasing distances are enormous;

Air pollution from lorries and planes contribute to climatic change and health problems
such as asthma.

Roads become congested.

Food needs more processing to preserve it over the long distances.

Small scale shops and farmers are replaced by larger organisations.

Land becomes restricted to the production of single cash crops, increasing the risks of
recession when prices fall.
Facts and figures

UK food exports in 1994 – 12 million tonnes. UK food imports in 1994 – 20 million tonnes.

Each tonne of food travelled an average of 123 km in 1998 (the average figure was 82 km in 1978)

Food in the UK now travels 50% further than it did 15 years ago.

Five large retail chains account for 80% of food sold in the UK.

Transportation of food was responsible for 33% of the increase in road freight over the last 15 years.

In the UK, road transport is the only source of a greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) that is still increasing.

In the UK, 24 000 people per year die from the effects of air pollution.

Air freight is expected to double in the next 20 years. A 2 minute DC10 acircraft take off is equal to the air pollution levels (nitrogen oxides) of driving 21,539 cars one mile at 30 miles an hour.

Increased amounts of packaging are used to protect produce during transportation. In the UK, 25 million tonnes of waste was produced in 1997, 33% of which was packaging.

Fewer varities of fruits and vegetables are available as producers concentrate on those with the longest shelf life and good travelling characteristics.

What can be done?
Supermarkets can reduce their food miles by stocking and promoting local foods. Stores could allot shelf space or a section of the shop to local producers, and market local and seasonal foods with in-store promotions such as tastings, meet the grower/producer days, special labels for local goods and recipe cards using the local, seasonal ingredients.

Local Authorities
Local authorities can reduce their food miles by changing in-house purchasing policies so that they source locally produced food where ever possible. Local authorities can also implement policies that reduce the number of lorries into the region and can support and initiate projects, such as urban food growing schemes, farmers’ markets, veggie box schemes and community allotments, that promote and encourage local production and sourcing of food.

Source: Food Miles – still on the road to ruin?, Sustain, 1999

Geography: 5a, 5b

Ask the children to consider questions such as;

how much it costs to bring food to the UK,

who pays for the fuel bills,

why some foods aren’t grown in this country,

how transporting foods over great distances might affect the environment.
Ask the children to use the facts and figures to create a leaflet outlining the problems of transporting foods over long distances.

Ask the children to think about what could be done and by who to improve the problems associated with food miles.

Ask the children to write a letter explaining their concerns about increasing food miles. Ask them to decide to whom they should send the letter and what action they want taken (for example, supermarket store managers and head offices, local authorities, the government Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions)

Ask the children to find out about farm shops, farmers markets, allotments and growing your own food.

Ask the children to find out about the food miles travelled by a selection of food from their home