Martin Hickman: It would be neither fair nor helpful to ban all air freight

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Our food system is causing an environmental headache, but there are better ways to ease the pain than stopping air freight. Although the rate is rapidly growing, flying in produce accounts for only one tenth of carbon emissions from food transportation. Lorries trundling along motorways and shoppers driving to the shops pollute more. Improving transport logistics and shopping more often on foot could cut food miles just as effectively as banning air freight.

Wasting less food would be far more effective still. About a third of food is wasted between farm and fork. According to the Government's Waste Resources Action Programme (Wrap), half of what we put in the bin could have been eaten – and if you think you don't waste anything, check your kitchen bin.

If the Soil Association does bring in a ban, it could consider halting air freight from certain continents rather than everywhere, taking into account the importance of development.

Fairer still would be to label food products with carbon content. This would help not only establish the difference in air freight between different countries, but also between flown-in and domestic products. Some food is far more energy intensive.

Even with the best will, carbon labelling will take time. In the meantime, we need a peer-reviewed study in an academic journal that will establish how polluting – or not – imported food is compared to homegrown production (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs take note).

So the food miles issue is more complex than it first seems. Banning air freight is not a cure-all. And we should question whether cutting an economic lifeline to Africa is a sop that gives the impression of action while tolerating our carbon excesses.

In short, we should be more careful with our food – and ask whether our leisure flights are really necessary – rather than punish Africans who emit 30 times less carbon.

Comments