FOOD TRANSPORT has a significant and growing impact on road congestion, road accidents, climate change, noise and air pollution, according to a new report on food miles published by DEFRA.
It estimates the total economic, environmental and social costs of food transport at £9bn.
The report shows that the quantity of food transported by Heavy Goods Vehicles in the UK has doubled since 1974 and food transport currently accounts for 25% of the distance covered by HGVs.
The report also suggests that consumers travel an average of 898 miles a year by car to shop for food.
In total, food transport produced 19mt of carbon dioxide in 2002 of which 10mt were emitted in the UK, says the report.
Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach said the study was an interesting contribution to the food miles debate as it showed that the issue was complex.
For example, the report highlights that while organic food could halve the negative environmental effect of conventional crops, this impact could be offset by long air and road journeys.
“It is clear that organic and seasonally-available food can reduce environmental impacts but these can be offset by the way they are transported to the consumer’s home,” said Lord Bach.
“The report also shows that buying local products has the potential to greatly reduce the distance food is transported but the benefits can be offset by increased road congestion if they are supplied in a less transport efficient way.”