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Food miles: what’s fair?

Think about this food policy issue from different perspectives

It seems logical that local food is better for the environment than food flown halfway across the world, but is it really that simple? Using food miles and working out the distance that food travels from the farm to your plate is one way to measure the environmental impact of food, but there’s more to making the ‘right’ choice about what food to buy. Look at the data below and think about how it relates to food miles, then read about the pros and cons of one potential solution.

Some facts about food miles

  • An estimated 1 to 1.5 million livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa depend on the UK-based food chain.
  • £1 million per day in the UK is spent on fruit and vegetables from sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Food production and consumption is responsible for 18 per cent of total UK greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The average Kenyan is responsible for 0.3 tonnes of COper year. The average Briton is responsible for 10.6 tonnes.
  • The energy used, factoring in aeroplane emissions, for Kenyan green beans is 12 times that for UK beans.

Source: Fair miles – recharting the food miles map

Potential solution

Lovin’ it local! Local councils encourage shops and markets to stock more local produce, increase the number of farmers’ markets and food festivals, etc. Look at some pros and cons.

Pros

  • Buying local means you’re supporting your local economy, contributing to local jobs, etc.
  • Locally produced food doesn’t need to be shipped or flown thousands of miles.

Cons

  • Shouldn’t we be supporting overseas farmers?
  • Cultivation in the UK may be more energy-intensive than that abroad – a tomato grown in the UK may require heated greenhouses.

Can you think of more?

Lead image:

steve p2008/Flickr CC BY

References

Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Food and Diet’ in June 2011 and reviewed and updated in August 2016.

Topics:
Ecology and environment, Biotechnology and engineering
Issue:
Food and Diet
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development