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Food miles: time for a re-think?

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Abstract:

Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to test the efficacy of the concept of food miles that has proved so popular with the public as a means of assessing the sustainability of produce. Design/methodology/approach ‐ This paper uses data from a UK major food importer and retailer to correlate carbon emissions from transport, and transport-related storage, with food miles by creating farm-specific mode-weighted emission factors. Findings ‐ The correlation is found to be poor for a wide range of products and locations and it is clear that the mode of transport is as important as the distance, with sourcing from parts of the Mediterranean resulting in emissions greater than those from the Americas. Practical implications ‐ It is concluded that it is difficult to justify the use of food miles when attempting to influence purchasing behaviour. Because of this result, processes and tools have been developed that relay information on true transport-related carbon emissions to customers and bulk purchasers that allow them to make informed decisions. Originality/value ‐ This paper questions the value of using the concept of food miles as a driving force for changing purchasing behaviour by either the customer or the purchasing department of a retailer.

Keywords: Agro-food sustainability; Carbon; Carbon emissions; Food; Food miles

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/00070701111148432

Publication date: 2011-07-05

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