Knowledge for better food systems

Food miles and the relative climate impacts of food choices in the United States

Weber, CL; Matthews HS (2008) , Environmental Science and Technology 42 (10): 3508-3513.
Weber, CL; Matthews HS (2008) , Environmental Science and Technology 42 (10): 3508-3513. Despite significant recent public concern and media attention to the environmental impacts of food, few studies in the United States have systematically compared the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with food production against long-distance distribution, aka "food-miles." This study found that although food is transported long distances in general (1640 km delivery and 6760 km life-cycle supply chain on average) the GHG emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of the average U.S. household's 8.1 t CO(2)e/yr footprint for food consumption. Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions, and final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%. Different food groups exhibit a large range in GHG-intensity, on average, red meat is around 150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. Thus, the authors suggest that dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household's food-related climate footprint than "buying local." Shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.
 

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