Cost of food grows to 18m tons of carbon dioxide

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Cars, lorries and planes are emitting a record 18 million tons of carbon dioxide a year transporting food around Britain, new figures from the Government showed yesterday.

A jump of 6 per cent was recorded in the number of "food miles" by road and air in 2004, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The figures will heighten concern about the damage done by the supermarkets' policy of flying in products like sweetcorn from Thailand, prawns from Ecuador, or apples from New Zealand. They are also a blow to the Government's commitment - made in its Food Industry Sustainability Strategy earlier this year - to cut the social and environmental costs of food miles on 1990 levels by 20 per cent by 2012.

Environmental campaigners said the figures showed ministers should be doing more to curb emissions of carbon dioxide (Co2), which causes climate change, which has been blamed for this summer's extreme heat.

Food miles are clocked up by air freighting produce often thousands of miles to the UK, trundling lorries round the motorway network and by customers travelling to and from shops.

Amid the rise of the supermarket chains and the all-year round stocking of fruit and vegetable varieties, Co2 emissions from food miles have soared in the past decade. They rose by 15 per cent from 1992 to 2002 and by a 4 per cent between 2002 and 2004, according to Defra.

In its latest statistics, the Government revealed that in 2004 the distance transporting food around towns and cities rose by 2 per cent to more than 11bn km. Within that the number of car journeys dropped by 2 per cent - the public may be limiting journeys to the supermarket, or shopping more locally. But heavy goods vehicles travelled 4 per cent more and vans 12 per cent more. Nationally HGV journeys jumped by 5 per cent and air food kilometres by 2 per cent.

According to a Government report last year, food miles cost the country £9bn a year - £5bn from road congestion, £2bn from road accidents, £1bn from pollution and £1bn from other factors.

A spokeswoman for Defra said the Government was working with the food manufacturers and supermarkets and had been impressed by the seriousness with which they were taking the issue.

Some stores such as Asda believed they were reducing road miles, she added. Yesterday, Sainsbury's said that it had cut the distance travelled by its lorries by 5 per cent to 134m km.

Friends of the Earth said the figures were more evidence that the Government was not doing enough to tackle climate change.

In March this year Margaret Beckett, then Environment Secretary, admitted Britain would fail to meet its long-standing target to reduce 1990 carbon dioxide levels by 20 per cent by 2010.

Germana Canzi, of Friends of the Earth - which backs the introduction of tax on air fuel - said: "These figures confirm the fact that the Government is missing its targets for reducing Co2 emissions and we are very disappointed because the Government has had many opportunities to meet its climate targets."

But she added: "I don't think the public are aware of food miles. They have come to take it for granted that you can go to the local supermarket and buy a vast range of products all year round and most people do not make the link between their behaviour and the impact it has on climate change.

"By making flying more expensive then the products would be more expensive and people would have an incentive to buy things locally rather than things flown half way around the world."

Produce on the move

* Food miles cost the country £9bn every year in delays, pollution and road accidents.

* Lorries did 5.5 million miles in food miles in 2004, according to Defra, while cars did 4.2 billion.

* Air travel was responsible for 17 million miles but it has been rising fast. It rose by 136 per cent from 1992 to 2002. Between 2002 and 2004, it rose 31 per cent.

* Some products are flown 12,000 miles to supermarkets.

* In a survey last year, Greenpeace found two-thirds of apples on sale at supermarket had been air-freighted from abroad - at the height of the British apple growing season.