I’ve posted a couple of items recently that illustrate people incorporating the concept of “food miles” (the travel distance between farm and plate for most agricultural products) into their daily diets. Now, from Britain’s Transport News Network (via EcoPortal) comes an announcement of a draft of research findings from a government and food industry partnership titled Food Industry Sustainability Strategy. One of the more interesting findings that this overview reports:
The report shows that in general higher levels of vehicle activity lead to higher environmental impacts. But it is not a simple matter of so-called ‘food miles’. The mode, timing, location and efficiency of food transport is important as well as the distance.
Sustainable Food and Farming Minister Lord Bach said: “This study is an interesting contribution to the ‘food miles’ debate. It shows that the issue is complex and that a range of factors have an effect on the overall impacts of food transport, not purely the distance travelled by individual products. We will update and publish these trends each year and I hope it will lead to a healthy debate between consumers, food producers, supermarkets, environmental groups and public authorities.”
“It provides some pointers for consumers. For example internet buying and home delivery can cut vehicle kilometres and reduce road congestion. It shows that buying local products has the potential to greatly reduce the distance food is transported but that the benefits can be offset by increased road congestion if they are supplied in a less transport efficient way.”
“It is clear that organic and seasonally-available food can reduce environmental impacts but that these can be offset by the way they are transported to the consumer’s home. It is also clear that transport and trade of food has the potential to lead to economic and social benefits, for example, through economic gains for both developed and developing countries, reduced prices for consumers and increased consumer choice.”
While I don’t think this news necessarily undermines the claim that eating from one’s “foodshed” is a good idea, it does demonstrate that our complex system of food transport has created complex problems that won’t be solved with a single answer.