Action 178: Reduce your international food air miles

Aircraft jet engineDate: 27 June
Action: 178
Cost of taking action: £/$/€ LOW or NIL


Too much of our food is flown from country to country, racking up a massive carbon footprint

Today’s action is to think about the food you buy, with a view to avoiding the items with the worst carbon footprints.

We all love to eat fresh fruit and vegetables all year round, but when it isn’t in season in our country it has to be transported from another, sometimes right from one side of the globe to the other. What’s worse, some food that has a shorter lifespan has to be moved by air, making them very highly polluting.

To todays action is to identify five foods that you shouldn’t buy!

Why is this important?

We all know that global warming is on the verge of getting out of control. If we are to have any chance of rectifying things before climate change devastates our planet and our societies, we have to get our carbon emissions down.

Air transport is one of the worst polluters in this respect, emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants high up in our atmosphere and contributing massively to our CO2 problem. CO2 is a greenhouse gas – it traps the sun’s heat and is a key cause of global warming.

Air freight is essential for many things, we have to accept that. However, luxury out-of-season food is not one of those things. Let’s try and reduce the amount of air freight and aircraft making unnecessary trips just for our convenience and taste. According to an article in The Independent, air freight emits more greenhouse gases per food mile than any other mode of transport!

What to avoid?

The main rule is to avoid food imported into your country when it is out of season for you. This will vary from country to country and season to season but to give a few guidelines here are some things to avoid if you live in the UK (about 30% of our readers are in the UK).

  • Fruit and veg from South America such as Argentinian blueberries and Peruvian asparagus
  • Products from Africa such as Ghanaian beans or Zimbabwean broccoli
  • Products marketed as “ethical” or “organic” that might be using these to disguise their poor eco-credentials (greenwashing)
  • Cut flowers from African countries
  • Air freighted bananas and apples (these can usually be transported more cleanly by ship)
  • Beef from Argentina (one of the highest CO2 emitting foods in the world)
  • Tomatoes from Saudi Arabia or China
  • Prawns from Indonesia
  • Grapes from Egypt

There are many, many more examples, these just give you an idea of what to look out for on the supermarket labels.

The best approach

The best approach is simple to buy British (if you are in the UK) or to buy produce grown in your own country. In the UK, the country of origin should appear clearly on the shelves or packaging so there is no excuse for buying high air-mile food.

Be especially cautious of products marked as “organic”, or “fairtrade”, or claiming other ethical or green credentials. Whilst we recognise that these credentials are important, CO2 emissions are a higher priority in most cases. Organic produce from thousands of miles away is far, far more damaging to our environment than any food produced locally.

Take action

It’s easy to reduce your food air-miles. Simply look for the “country of origin” on your perishable fruit, vegetables, meat and fish and if you are buying from thousands of miles away, think again. Do your research and buy food produced in your own country or a close neighbour… and from local farms if at all possible.

Doing so will reduce air freight CO2 emissions and pollution, and will probably cost you less as well – after all someone has to pay for the air freighting and ultimately it’s the end-consumer that usually foots the bill.