Report on food transport reveals effect on environment

The transport of food across the UK has a “significant and growing impact” on road congestion, accidents, climate change, noise and pollution, a new report has claimed.

According to the report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the environmental and social costs of the transporting food is estimated at £9 billion per year with more than half due to road congestion.

Defra found that the quantity of food transported by heavy goods vehicles has doubled since 1974 and food transport now accounts for a quarter of all HGV vehicle kilometres in the UK.

Consumers are now also travelling an average of 898 miles per year by car to shop for food, the report found.

Defra’s breakdown of environmental, social and economic costs of food transport found that £5 billion was due to road congestion, £2 billion to road accidents, £1 billion to pollutions and £1 billion to other factors. The report suggested that food shopping by car accounted for 40% of the total costs.

The report also found that 19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was produced by food transport in 2002, 10 million tonnes of which are emitted in the UK, representing 1.8% of the total annual UK Co2 emissions.

However, the report said that, although general higher levels of vehicle activity lead to higher environmental impacts, the mode, timing, location and efficiency of food transport is important as well as the distance.

Sustainable Food and Farming Minister Lord Bach said: “This study is an interesting contribution to the ‘food miles’ debate. It shows that the issue is complex and that a range of factors have an effect on the overall impacts of food transport, not purely the distance travelled by individual products.”

Lord Bach said that Internet buying and home delivery could help reduce vehicle kilometres and road congestion. He also suggested that purchasing local products could help reduce congestion and purchasing organic and seasonally available food could reduce environmental impacts, although both of these benefits could be offset if they were transported in an inefficient way.

The government is working with the food industry to combat the problem, through the draft Food Industry Sustainability Strategy, a plan for achieving a 20% reduction in the environmental and social costs of food transport by about 2012.


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