Transporting food costs the UK billions

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Friday, July 15, 2005

A report published today by DEFRA, a UK Government department finds that transporting food to and around the country has significant social and environmental costs. The report, carried out by external consultancy AEA Technology, estimates these costs to have been £9 billion ($16 billion US) in 2002. The Government says it wants to work with the food industry to reduce social and environmental impacts by 20% by 2012.

The report set out to make an assessment of the impact of food miles and to develop a set of indicators that will show when progress has been made to reduce these negative impacts. The distance that food travels between producer and consumer (food miles) has increased over the past ten years.

Increasing food miles has been seen as undesirable in and of itself but the report says that the situation is more complex and that the mode of transport has to be taken in to account. The increase in food miles between 1992 and 2002 was associated with increasing levels of congestion and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases while emmissions of some local pollutants such as SOx and NOx have declined.

The Food and Drink Federation, which speaks for food manufacturers, was concerned about the focus on food miles but welcomed the "acknowledgement that more local sourcing does not automatically reduce the environmental and social costs associated with food miles." The Federation went on to stress that "on imported ingredients, the usual mode of transport used by food manufacturers is by sea, which does not give rise to any significant impacts. Air transport is generally not used by food manufacturers."

Another industry group, the British Retail Consortium said that retailers would "welcome the opportunity to introduce further transport efficiencies into their operations - always working from the principle that making existing resources work harder makes both good environmental and commercial sense."

Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth is worried that the UK Government will not take the firm action it believes is necessary in the light of the report. A statement from the group said "The Government must get tougher to reduce food miles. Unless it tackles this problem the impacts will become worse and Government targets to reduce carbon dioxide levels will be much harder to achieve."