Food miles is a term which refers to the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer. Food miles are one factor used when assessing the environmental impact of food, including the impact on global warming.
The concept of food miles originated in the early 1990s in the United Kingdom. It was conceived by Professor Tim Lang, at the Sustainable Agriculture Food and Environment (SAFE) Alliance.
Some scholars believe that an increase in the miles food travels is due to :
- the globalization of trade
- the focus of food supply bases into fewer, larger districts; drastic changes in delivery patterns
- the increase in processed and packaged foods
- making fewer trips to the supermarket.
At the same time, most of the greenhouse gas emissions created by food have their origin in the production phases, which create 83% of overall emissions of CO2.
A range of studies compare emissions over the entire food cycle, including production, consumption, and transport. These include estimates of food-related emissions of greenhouse gas ‘up to the farm gate’ versus ‘beyond the farm gate’. In the UK, for example, agricultural-related emissions may account for approximately 40% of the overall food chain (including retail, packaging, fertilizer manufacture, and other factors), whereas greenhouse gases emitted in transport account for around 12% of overall food-chain emissions. The goal of environmental protection agencies is to make people aware of the environmental impact of food miles and to show the pollution percentage and the energy used to transport food over long distances.
Researchers are currently working to provide the public with more information.