Misunderstanding Food Miles

The average Australian basket of food has travelled over 70,000 kilometres from producer to consumer, suggests the first study of its kind presented at the Agri-Food XIV conference in Brisbane this week and reported on Australian ABC. But more importantly they point out that food miles are not the be all and end all when judging food impacts and can be misunderstood:

" it's important to look at the whole life cycle of food to really understand its energy consumption. They say the energy that goes into producing the food in the first place can sometimes be far more significant in terms of global carbon emissions.

"In some cases transport is only 20% of the total energy budget of a food's production," says Associate Professor Hugh Campbell, a New Zealand researcher from the University of Otago in Dunedin. He says food miles are a useful first step but recent research shows it takes half the energy to get a New Zealand grown lamb compared to a UK-grown lamb onto a table in the UK. This is because UK farmers rely heavily on electricity sourced from non-renewable sources whereas New Zealand farmers rely on renewable hydroelectric power, says Campbell.
He says European animal welfare requirements also mean animals need to be housed over winter, which brings costs. This is less of an issue in the more temperate climate of New Zealand. Campbell says a life cycle analysis of kiwi fruit production shows it is also less energy demanding to ship New Zealand fruit to the UK than it is to truck fruit from Italy."

So do not be fooled by the food miles (although they are certainly interesting and useful) and remember to keep the bigger life cycle picture in mind when choosing your food. Think about how much energy, the type of energy and whether what you're eating was grown in season. In my perfectly green world we would be provided with that life cycle information at the purchase point.

Please read the full article for yourself here from Australian ABC. More info on food miles here and here. Photo via the ABC article and iStockphotos.

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