Knowledge for better food systems

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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.

19 July 2017

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.

24 July 2016

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:

13 June 2014

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.

27 February 2014

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.

5 December 2013

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.

22 April 2013

Europe is reforming its biofuels policy due to concerns raised about its impact on global land use change patterns and global food markets. The negative environmental impacts of the biofuels policy have been well demonstrated, but what is less clear are the economic implications.

18 March 2013

A report by the European Environment Agency finds that emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases from the shipping sector have increased substantially in the last two decades, contributing to both climate change and air pollution problems.

24 September 2012

The EU is considering plans to limit crop-based biofuels to 5% of transport fuel. 

25 April 2011

An interesting article demonstrating the rebound effect resulting from increasing energy efficiency in the road freight transport sector in Portugal. Matos F J F and Silva F J F (2011). Energy Policy. The rebound effect on road freight transport: Evidence from Portugal, 39, 5, 2833-2841

25 April 2011

The Deparment for Transport has published its 2010 report which reveals a declining level of concern for the environment and and the usual complex tangle of human inconsistencies and hypocrisies.

17 January 2011

This paper reports on an in-depth study of refrigeration in the UK food chain. It identifies the greenhouse gas impacts of the ‘cold chain’ and discusses some of the technological options for reducing these.  

21 May 2010

In November 2009 Japan's Ministry of the Environment released an Annual Report on the Environment, the Sound Material-Cycle Society and the Biodiversity in Japan 2009, Abridged and Illustrated for Easy Understanding.

18 July 2008

In July 2008, Stephen Joseph, director of the Campaign for Better Transport (formerly Transport 2000), produced this extremely useful summary of the Department for Transport's current policies and where they may be heading.

25 January 2008

A European drive to run vehicles on biofuels instead of petrol and diesel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to be reviewed after concerns about its environmental impact.

1 May 2007

There is a growing body of research which explores the scope for applying cleaner and renewable fuels to the transport sector, with much attention focused on biofuels. Examples include:

Woods, J and Bauen A. (2003). "Technology Status Review and Carbon Abatement Potential of Renewable Transport Fuels in the UK", DTI New and Renewable Energy Programme, Department for Trade and Industry.

1 May 2007

The Centre for Air Transport and the Environment at Manchester Metropolitan University undertakes research on aviation and climate change and also examines the technological dimension.

1 May 2007

For a definitive analysis of the impact of aviation on climate change see the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report Aviation and the Global Atmosphere. The report is attached below.