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Sunday, December 02, 2007

'Food miles' soared by 31% in a year, study reveals

by Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent

The Independent & The Independent on Sunday (October 26 2007)

Almost a third more food was flown into Britain last year than in 2005, embarrassing the Government which has promised to slash the pollution and congestion from "food miles".

Air-freight rose 31 per cent in the year to 2006, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which published the figures on its website without a press notice yesterday, a day after the Soil Association decided not to implement a full ban on air-freighted food.

The importation of animal feed from Brazil and the US was blamed by Defra for the steep rise, which means that air miles have more than quadrupled - a rise of 379 per cent - since 1992.

Overall, there was a five per cent increase in carbon dioxide emissions from all food transport between 2005 and 2006, show the Food Transport Indicators.

The number of HGV miles dipped by three per cent, because of fewer overseas journeys - that may now be being made by air - but there was a seven per cent rise in urban transport, which Defra said had been caused by individuals taking more and longer shopping trips.

The Government is committed to reducing the social and environmental impact of food miles by twenty per cent by 2012.

Of all the UK's carbon dioxide emissions from food transport last year, 26 per cent came from domestic HGV travel, while overseas lorries generated another eighteen per cent. Cars generated twenty per cent, with air freight at fifteen per cent and sea transport at twelve per cent. Vans, overseas vans and overseas rail transport accounted for the rest.

Commenting on the figures, the Food minister, Jeff Rooker, described food miles alone as an incomplete way of judging the sustainability of food. He said: "The impact of the environment is complex and variable depending on a number of factors other than transportation including, production methods, sourcing, degrees of processing and packaging. Therefore, it is important to consider the relationship between the distance travelled by food and the overall impact on the environment of how food is produced."

Friends of the Earth complained the figures were a "sad" indication the Government had failed to halt the growth of food pollution and called for shipping and aviation to be included in the Climate Change Bill which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Yesterday, the Food and Drink Federation promised the industry would reduce its environmental and social impact by twenty per cent by 2012 from a benchmark in 2002. Measures include a ban on sending any food and packaging waste to landfill by 2015 and reducing water use.

Baroness Young of Old Scone, chief executive of the Environment Agency, welcomed the commitment to annual reporting of progress. "The food and drink manufacturing sector, as one of the UK's largest, has a significant impact on the environment", she said.

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

Bill Totten


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