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What are food miles?

Food miles measure the distance food travels from the farm (where it grew) to the plate (where it's eaten). One researcher in the USA* found that the average food item travels between 1,500 to 2,500 miles before it reaches the customer. How can food travel so far? Well, sometimes food is sent round the world to be packaged or processed e.g. Irish fish is sometimes sent to China to be processed (wages are cheaper in China), before being sent back to Ireland.

* Engelhaupt, E. (2008). Do food miles matter? Environmental Science & Technology

In 2001 The Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations found that international food trade was
increasing faster than either the world's population or
food production.
Between 1968 and 1998

  • world food production increased by 84%.
  • population increased by 91%.
  • food trade increased by 184%.
Source: FAO Food Balance Sheet Database, 2001
Should we aim to reduce food miles?