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Frost Bitten: an exploration of refrigeration dependence in the UK food chain and its implications for climate policy

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.  

Paper by Tara Garnett and Tim Jackson, Presented to the 11th European Round Table on Sustainable Consumption and Production, Basel, Switzerland, June 2007.

Abstract

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. The main thrust of the paper is to explore the social, technological and economic factors which have given rise to what must now be regarded as a potentially problematic ‘refrigeration dependence’ in the food chain. We explore the historical roots of this dependency and discuss some of its key features. In particular we show how interactions between refrigeration technologies, packaging, transport, food product innovations and marketing have combined to help create cultural norms and practices which are now highly energydependent. Reversing this trend is likely to be far from easy. While energy efficiency measures and novel technologies are essential, they do not tackle the underlying structural need for refrigeration – the kinds of foods we eat and the way we manage our lives that renders refrigeration essential. ‘Defrosting’ our increasing addiction to the cold chain is likely to require significant changes in where and how we grow and transport food, in where and how we shop for it, and in how and when we cook it. We highlight in particular the potential to reduce refrigeration needs along the supply chain by reducing meat and dairy consumption, by more frequent local shopping, and by a shift towards ‘robust’ seasonal foods. 

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Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

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