Ecologist says food miles are overhyped

A UK ecologist has denounced the media and politicians for blowing the issue of food’s environmental footprint out of proportion.

Bill Vorley of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has said that concerns about ‘food miles’ – the carbon footprint created by flying food around the world – are grossly overinflated and should take into account the benefits to developing economies.

There is growing concern among consumers that food imported by air causes unreasonable greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

“Export horticulture is one of the few genuine opportunities to bring direct and indirect benefits to the rural poor in developing countries,” says Vorley. “Air freight is currently the only possible mode of transport from most of Africa for highly perishable produce. More than one million people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on this trade for their livelihoods.”

“Airfreight of fresh fruits and vegetables from sub-Saharan Africa accounts for less than 0.1 per cent of total UK carbon emissions,” says Vorley. “Far greater emissions result from the domestic transport of food goods within the country. The UK must first look to the huge impacts of our food system at home, before pulling up the ladder on Africa.”

Air Cargo News’ food miles campaign last year highlighted evidence showing how much of the production and distribution of food within the UK produces more carbon emissions than growing it abroad and shipping it to the UK.

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