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The transport industry enables billions of tonnes of food to be carried across the globe, allowing for variety in food products eaten and the specialisation of agriculture across countries. Food transport can be a significant source of food related GHG emissions but the intensity of impacts depends on the mode. Generally the more rapid the mode of transport, the greater the emissions, with impacts in ascending order being ship, rail, road and air. The vast majority of food trade is carried out by road and ship. Localised food production and distribution systems may not always be lower in overall GHG impacts once the full life cycle impacts of a food product are taken into account – sometimes a more distantly sourced product may have overall fewer impacts than one produced in emission intensive ways closer to home. This said, globalisation, underpinned by transport, also fosters new norms of year round consumption that may be highly energy demanding. Note that while shipping may have a relatively low carbon footprint compared with other modes, the vast global shipping industry gives rise to many other environmental concerns. These include the accidental transport of invasive species in ballast water, large scale noise pollution that disrupts marine wildlife as well as pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulates. The transport of food is increasing, along with its environmental impacts. Freight transport (of all kinds – not just food related) across the EU, for example, is outstripping growth in GDP.
This report by UK charity the Soil Association argues that COVID-19 has highlighted the fragility of long supply chains, and that supporting shorter supply chains will make the food system more resilient and sustainable. It also gives examples of localised food supply initiatives in the UK.
This book uses case studies from Europe and North America to explore how relocalised food supply chains could respond to challenges to the food system. It argues that shorter food supply chains could in principle perform better socially, economically and environmentally than more geographically dispersed supply chains.
This blog post by Caroline Grunewald of US think tank The Breakthrough Institute argues that a global food system offers greater resilience against local production failures than a local food system, contrary to narratives that the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the fragile nature of the global food system and that local food systems are more resilient.
This paper models the production of six food crops, and finds that only 11-28% of the world’s population (depending on crop) would be able to meet their demands for those crops by using only food produced within a 100 km radius, based on current production and consumption patterns. The aim of the paper is to assess the physical constraints that limit the extent to which food supply can become localised and thus inform the ongoing debates around local food and food sovereignty.
This book outlines the latest information on how food supply chains in cities can be managed sustainably, focusing on circular economy models.
The UK government has released the first batch of its technical notices to advise businesses and individuals on how to prepare for the hypothetical scenario of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. The notices include some topics of relevance to the food system.
A report by the Food Research Collaboration argues that the sustainability and security of Britain’s food supply would be put at risk by a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit, where the UK reverts to trading according to World Trade Organisation rules. The report points out that the UK imports 30% of its food from the EU, plus another 11% via trade deals negotiated between the EU and other countries. The report claims that the government may suspend food regulations if a no-deal Brexit happens, to minimise barriers to importing food. Furthermore, it criticises the UK government for neglecting the importance of retail and food service in the UK food system.
This report from the Food Research Collaboration, by Gary McFarlane, Tony Lewis and Tim Lang, argues that the Brexit negotiations have neglected the importance of the transport of food into, out of and through Northern Ireland.
173 countries have agreed to halve emissions from the global shipping industry by 2050, compared to 2008 levels, in a non-binding deal arranged by the International Maritime Organisation. Saudi Arabia, the US and several other countries raised objections to the proposed emissions cuts. Shipping was not covered by the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change.
This paper examines the common assumption that local foods are more sustainable than foods sourced from more distant locations. Using the multi-criteria decision aid method (MCDA), which allows for multi-dimensional criteria to be assessed, this paper answers the following research question: “how do selected local or global food products compare and which rank first in terms of sustainability performance?”.
International trade in critical commodities is growing, which, this report poses, is increasing pressure on a small number of ‘chokepoints’ – critical junctures on transport routes through which exceptional volumes of trade pass. Were a serious interruption at one or more of these chokepoints to occur, this could potentially lead to supply shortfalls and price spikes, both within and outside of the food system. Smaller disruptions might add to delays, spoilage and transport costs, constraining market responsiveness and contributing to higher prices and increased volatility.
This change.org petition urges universities and institutions of higher education to be leaders in cutting greenhouse gas emissions arising from flying and asks them to:
New official data from the European Union shows a 19.2 % reduction on GHG emissions on 1990 levels, suggesting that the union is within reach of its target to reduce emissions by 20% until 2020. Emissions fell by 1.3 % between 2011 and 2012, largely due to reductions in transport and industry and a growing proportion of energy from renewable sources. Italy alone accounted for 45 % of the total EU net reduction in emissions in 2012, largely due to lower emissions from transport and industry.
The aim of the THE SMART FOOD GRID project is to improve the efficiency of local food distribution within Amsterdam. The project grew out of research which analysed the flow of local food in and around the city. This found that while there was a great amount of fresh and processed food being brought into the city, a link was not being made between this food and the general urban public. SMARTGRID therefore aims to link producers with consumers through the use of a smart-phone. Users can scan a QR code on a banner, order local products and get them delivered through sustainable transport modes to their house, office or other location.
The Irish CONSENSUS research project on sustainable household consumption has launched a set of two-minute video animations on their research. CONSENSUS aims to advance understanding of the drivers shaping everyday household consumption practices and to identify policy, technology and educational interventions to facilitate sustainable living. We are highlighting three of their videos here.