Food Miles

Research Methods 2010
CTSU 7920
Partial Literature Review
Healing a sick world – Paradigm shift in response to resource depletion
Course Co-ordinator:
Dr Geoff Bridgman
Dr Helen Gremillion
Due Date: April 9, 2010.
Food Miles
Word Count
1100 – not including in text referencing
I declare that to the best of my knowledge all references have been included and the
assignment is free of plagiarism
The issues arising around the rapidly depleting resources of the world are becoming ever
more prominent in the every days lives of people on a global basis. In this review I am going
to look at how the depleting resources are impacted by “food miles”; and the social and
environmental implications this presents from the farm to the fork. One argument is that the
further the “food miles” the more energy and resources are consumed, campaigners for
reduced “food miles” advocate sourcing food closer to the point of consumption. I shall
investigate the effectiveness of this policy and whether there still remains justification for
food distribution on a more global scale.
The issue of “food miles” emanates from increased global awareness of the environmental
issues arising, both on an individual basis and through business. How food miles are defined
can vary. In basic terms it is a measure of the distance food travels from the point of
production to the point of consumption. This is in relation to the energy and resources that are
required for that journey to take place. As the world wide debate on this subject has grown
there is conflicting views whether this method of measurement is misleading because it does
not include the energy and resources consumed in the production of the food. Much of the
early research into food miles was conducted in the United Kingdom (UK). Saunders, Barber,
and Taylor, (2006), state that “a fairer comparison of like for like costs can be arrived at”,
when researching the performance of the New Zealand agricultural industry with that in
Europe and particularly the UK, when production to plate energy and resources are taken into
Business and Farmers
In the industrialised world we have evolved into supermarket foragers (Chi, MacGregor and
King, 2009) and base the choice of food we purchase on criteria such as nutrition, origin or
just pure craving. The balanced diet of today includes a whole lot more than protein and
carbohydrates, there are social, political and economic considerations too. As global trading
expands, the environmental impacts from producing and transporting food to the point of
consumption will increase. Or will they? There are conflicting arguments regarding this, with
the base of each presenting argument being directed by the need to advocate either for or
against food miles.
Giant supermarket chains such as Wal-Mart and Tesco consolidate their purchasing and
supply networks, thus creating one of the main sources of food miles. In the UK 85% of the
food retail market is shared by the top five retailers. To offset the greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions generated by the distribution network, some have recently begun to purchase
renewable carbon credits to offset their energy footprint. Whilst this may sound good, it does
not reduce the food miles in any way (Stancu and Smith, 2006).
In the United States (US) from 1997 to 2004 the average distance food travelled increased by
22% from 6760 kilometres to 8240. Farmers markets in the US, UK and Europe have
become a popular alternative to the giant supermarkets boosting the ‘local is good’ slogan
and are seen as a way of reducing the food miles. The less distance food has to travel the less
packaging it requires, less refrigeration and therefore reducing the food miles, which in turn
also reduces the CO² emissions. Food that travels by Air Freight is considered to be the most
environmentally damaging; in 2004 the Food Standards Agency claimed that food
transported by air produced between 40 to 200 times the CO² emissions to that of marine
Does The Consumer Care?
Consumer tastes have broadened immensely to become an “invisible driver” (Stancu and
Smith, 2006) in food miles and campaigners are working hard to educate consumers on the
impact of imported food. Thus arises the temptations presented to the consumer by the
‘marketing moguls’ and we are then told by the ‘green’ advocates that we should not be
tempted. Governments are bound by free trade agreements and are unable in many instances
to legislate or introduce formal policies for local food sourcing. If the UK consumer wants
that tropical item for the special family dinner in the middle of winter why should they be
disappointed when it may be available?
New Zealand and Europe
Due to geographical location, New Zealand could be particularly vulnerable to any
international agreements to restrict food miles, though it is one of the more sustainable
producers due to the climate. In 2006 Stancu and Smith stated in their findings that food in
the UK travels 65% further than it did two decades ago, they went on to identify that £2.3
billion could be saved each year in environmental and congestion costs if food was sourced
from within 20kms by consumers.
New Zealand and the UK have similar growing cycles, both being able to produce crops such
as apples and onions. However; it is when you take into consideration the method of
production for the calculation of food miles, a difference in the emissions cost of the items
arise. Many UK crops are produced in ‘hot houses’ with growing conditions requiring more
fertilisers and pesticides, whereas the same crop produced in New Zealand would not use a
‘hot house’ or require the same level of fertilisers and pesticides. If the crop is transported by
sea the New Zealand would therefore have less overall impact on the environment.
Global Trade and Fair Miles
The next question is; by reducing food miles does this make the distance travelled fair miles?
If you were to ask this question of a small farmer in Africa, the answer would undoubtedly be
‘no’. Profit made by these small farmers helps to sustain and maintain housing, food, medical
and education costs for their families, Chi et al. (2009) estimate that approximately 1 to 1.5
million livelihoods are dependant both directly and indirectly on the UK food supply chains.
Farmers in the African developing nations use traditional labour intensive methods to
produce their crops as machinery and chemicals are too expensive. Therefore, as Morgan and
Lalor (1997) state, their methods are more in tune with the natural environment.
Changes to our lives are required so that we can protect and sustain the environment. We
must conserve resources so that they are available for future generations as well as the
present ones. Morgan and Lalor (1997) give us the reminder that “we do not inherit the earth
from our fathers, we borrow it from our children”. There has to be a balance between the
needs of the people and nature itself. This brings the conclusion that every time we purchase
from the supermarket, cafe or local food outlet we are making a social, political and
economic choice with direct consequences. This requires good choice management from each
and every one of us.
Chi, K.R., MacGregor, J. and King, R. (2009). Fair miles – recharting the food miles map.
Oxford: International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Oxfam.
Food Standards Agency. (2004). Consumer Committee: Sustainable Development. Retrieved
April 6, 2010, from
Morgan, S. and Lalor, P. (1997). Living for the future, world food. London: Franklin Watts.
Saunders, C., Barber, A. and Taylor, G. (2006). Food miles – Comparative energy/emissions
performance of New Zealand’s Agriculture Industry. (Research Report No. 285).
Christchurch, Lincoln University, Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit
Stancu, C. And Smith, A. (2006). Food miles – the international debate and implications for
New Zealand exporters. (Briefing Paper 1). Auckland, Landcare Research, Business
and Sustainability Series (ISSN 1177-3731).
Partial literature review (25%): A written research essay of 1000 words covering an area of literature that is important to
the development of a project on the rapidly depleting resources of the Earth:
Core questions:
what resources are available for the future?
what resources do we as individuals use (what is our Carbon Footprint)? and
what meaning would we make of the information about the above?
The review will summarise, critique and put in context information from at least four different sources such as a journal
article, a book chapter or a substantial review or analysis article. At least one of these sources will be a research report that
contains a methodology section. Short internet or newspaper stories or reviews are not appropriate, students should use the
source articles for the these stories
Due: 9th of April
Marking criteria
The literature review must include the following:
Justification for selecting this area for review – explain in an introduction how this area of literature is important to the
research questions 3% Nice intro, set out out the framework of the debate very well
A conclusion that ties together the issues you have discussed for your 4 or more sources of literature 4% Excellent
conclusion, Neat encapsulation and a rousing finish.
It will also include some or all of the following. Your emphasis will differ depending on the articles chosen – some will
be theoretical, some descriptive, some quantitative. 18% This was a well constructed assignment, clear and
straightforward. I’ve mentioned below that you could have covered the food miles issue re NZ in a little more detail. I
felt the issue with the African farmers got slightly off topic by raising another important eco-issue – the need to support
developing countries even if it means their ecological footprint increases.
Definitions of key terms in the literature covered that relate to the research questions covered. In some cases a simple
definition will do, in others a major part of the literature review will be spent teasing out the meaning behind a key
term. For example how do we define carbon footprint or carbon credits? Well done
The key current theoretical or philosophical positions from your area of the literature review that are relevant to the
hypothesis or question including information that supports/negates the various theories discussed. For example a)
global warming brings with more erratic weather patterns, meaning that we have worse droughts, but also worse winter
storms; b) this is the first time in human history that we have the information from past civilisation failure that gives us
the opportunity to avert global disaster. Good discussion on the theoretical debates on the relationship between food
milers and carbon footprint generally.
Demographic data/information about the population/s you wish to study or who may be affected by your research. For
example how many Chinese and Indians will own a car in the next 5 years? How many people in New Zealand
consume at a level of 5 Earths? I would have liked just a bit more detail aboit the comparison between NZ food’s UK
footprint and that of local produce – lamb and butter, for example
Important background information to the area of study that sets the context for the research and/or the history of study
in this area. For example, to understand why it is difficult for us to respond to the threats of global warming, we need to
understand something (perhaps from evolutionary psychology) about how humans predict and respond to future events.
Good background info re farmers markets and supermarket chains
Marks will be lost for the following
Quoting: be careful about quoting large chunks of other people’s work. Your job is to analyse, synthesise and
summarise. Use large quotes only where something absolutely critical to your writing is being said in a way that could
not be clearer, more compressed or elegant. When quotes are longer than 40 words they should be indented on a new
line. No probl\ems
References -2% if not provided. Full referencing using the standard APA system – refer to the student handbook. good
The weight given to various aspects of the literature review will differ depending on the what area of the literature students
are exploring and what they chose to emphasise.
Total 23/25 pretty damn good.