20% of carbon emissions from the food creation chain come from shipping
Author: Lauren Liebhaber
Thistle analyzed the findings of the 2022 study published in Nature Food on global food-miles to synthesize key points regarding carbon emissions in the food supply chain and some of the supporting data about the global impact of food systems. When we think about where our food comes from, we may think of a linear journey from point A to point B. This is essentially the basis for "food-miles"—the distance food travels from where it is produced to where it is consumed—which measures a food's carbon footprint. Food-miles are measured in ton-kilometers per year—a unit representing the transport of 1 ton of goods over a distance of 1 kilometer. The more miles a food item travels, including collective miles for goods made of multiple ingredients, the less sustainable that item becomes. The mode of transportation is another major factor in determining a food's carbon emissions. Air transport emits more greenhouse gasses than shipping the same amount of food by boat, for example. The study published in Nature Food shows that greenhouse gas emissions associated with global food-miles, or the transport of food items, are between 3.5 and 7.5 times higher than experts previously believed. A new model used to evaluate the environmental impact of food-miles factors into the extensive upstream resources expended before the food is even shipped, such as transporting fertilizer to grow the food or equipment to transform land for agricultural production. Updated estimates show transport accounts for nearly 20% of all emissions associated with the food creation chain.