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The cost to the environment of moving food around

"If people bought and consumed more local and more organic produce and if their journeys to and from food shops were made on a bus, by bike or on foot rather than in a car, there would be more than £4bn in environmental savings to the British economy."   This is the claim of a  study of the environmental impact of our weekly shop, conducted jointly by the University of Essex and City University.

Looking for strategies to minimise the environmental impact of food transportation, the authors make the following claims:

· if all farms in the UK were to turn organic, then environmental costs would fall from £1.5bn to less than £400m, saving the country £1.1bn annually.  The environment (and us) would be a lot healthier.

· if all food were sourced from within 20km of where it was consumed, environmental and congestion costs would fall from more than £2.3bn to under £230m, a further saving of £2.1bn; and...

Lead researcher, Professor Jules Pretty, said: “The most political act we do on a daily basis is to eat, as our actions affect farms, landscapes and food businesses.  Food miles are much more significant than we previously thought, and much now needs to be done to encourage local production and consumption of food.”  This has been confirmed by the Stern Report - we have to act now and buying local food is one fairly easy way to really make a difference.

Further, if we don't support our local producers in the West Country and the UK and if food production were to cease on UK farms, if we had to import all our food by air the environmental costs would rise by a staggering £19.7bn each year and even more damage would be done.

Some other food facts

1.  Each person makes 221 shopping trips per year, with an average length of 6.4 km (up from 4 km in 1985).

2. Agri-food products now account for 28% of all freight transport in the UK (up from 25% in the 1980s).

3. Some food miles arise from an extraordinary food swap between the UK and the continent. Each year, some 12.2 million tonnes of food are imported and 7.4 million tonnes exported. Some produce is simply swapped.

4. Each year 0.41 million tonnes of milk is exported, and 0.43 million tonnes is exported and 130,000 sheep are exported and 120,000 are imported.

These findings are taken from Pretty, Lang et al. (2005). Farm costs and food miles: an assessment of the full cost of the UK weekly food basket. Food Policy, 30 (1).

If you want to use any of this information, please credit us by providing a link or mentioning our services and let us know you're using it.  Thank you.

Copyright The Local Food Company, December 2006

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