The following article was published in the June 2006 issue of Sovereignty.
Local Food is Miles Better is the new campaign slogan from Farmers Weekly. Intended to "focus consumers' minds on all that is good about British and local produce", we've excerpted info below, from its campaign literature:
What is a Food Mile?
It's how far food travels from the farmer who produces it to the consumer who eats it. That includes the journey from farm to processor, then from processor to retailer and finally from retailer to consumer.
It includes travel within the UK as well as between countries.
Why is it important to reduce the number of miles food travels?
(1) Food miles harm the environment
Transporting food large distances uses a lot of fuel, whether it travels by lorry or plane. That means more carbon dioxide emissions and more global warming.
Did you know? Since 1978 the amount of food moved about within the UK by HGV has increased by 23% and the average distance for each trip has jumped by 50%.
(2) Food miles reduce freshness
The further food has to travel, the longer it spends in transit. That means vitamins are lost and nutritional values inevitably decline.
Did you know? Imports of indigenous foods rose from 13.5m tonnes in 1992 to 16.1m tonnes in 2002.
(3) Food miles mean less security
As time goes by, a greater and greater proportion of UK food comes in from abroad. At a time when the world has never seemed such an unstable place, is it really a good idea to rely so heavily on distant countries to supply such a vital commodity?
Did you know? 95% of fruit and 50% of vegetables eaten in the UK are imported.
(4) Food miles make us lose our sense of seasonality
Being able to buy strawberries in January can be appealing. But is it really a good idea to ship seasonal fruit and vegetables thousands of miles across the world when, if we waited a few months, we could buy them from a few miles away? Actively giving priority to buying foods that are in season is an easy way of cutting food miles.
Did you know? If all foods were sourced from within 20km (12.5m) of where they were consumed, the country could save £2.1bn in environmental and congestion costs.
(5) High food miles mean it's harder to monitor production and welfare standards
While food produced on the other side of the world may be just as healthy and welfare friendly as the same food produced down the road, it's inevitably harder to check whether that's the case. Buying local food means you can talk to the farmer and see exactly how it's produced.
Did you know? Air transport accounts for 1% of food miles, but 11% of food mile CO2 emissions.
(6) More food miles mean more transport cost
Aviation fuel and lorry diesel aren't cheap, so the further food travels the more costs it incurs. Who pays those costs in the end? Consumers, of course.
Did you know? The amount of food air-freighted around the world has risen by 140% since 1992.
(7) Food miles can hurt the environment in third world countries
While much of the farming in the 3rd world is just as sustainable as it is here in Europe, some isn't. Buying food from countries that routinely fell rainforest to plant crops, for example, isn't something most consumers would be comfortable doing.
Did you know? An area of rainforest equivalent to 10 football pitches is destroyed every second.
Won't buying locally hurt third world farmers?
Buying food is all about choice. Farmers Weekly's campaign fully supports the principle of Fair Trade. But consumers have a right to be able to make informed decisions about where their food comes from and the social and environmental impacts of those purchases.
The campaign should help them make the right decision about what imported food they feel it's appropriate to support and what local food they want to buy.
Is it only about fresh produce?
No, processed products can often notch up huge mileages too. Bread or beer made from UK or even regionally-sourced wheat and barley brings the benefits of low food miles. So do UK-sourced vegetable oil, sugar, flour, crisps, frozen chips, ready-made meals and so on.
FW's campaign has the following aims:
Ensure at least 5 million people learn about the food miles issue, that it is covered in at least five national or regional newspapers, at least two national and three local TV stations, endorsed by at least 10 celebrities and 20 other organisations, and at least
10 schools to have got involved in the food miles campaign.