The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has criticised UK plans to introduce “clear and unambiguous country of origin labelling rules” for food products.
Last week the UK government set out its priorities for the food sector in the DEFRA Food 2030 strategy report. One of its main conclusions centred on the need for improved labelling, and in particular more accurate information on where food is produced and processed.
But the FTA, which represents major transport firms and supermarkets in the UK, has warned against becoming fixated with the idea of food miles. The trade association argues that food miles are just one piece in the carbon footprint jigsaw, and can be misleading when considered in isolation.
Christopher Snelling, the FTA head of global supply chain policy, said: “By fixating on ‘country of origin’ as an indicator of a product’s environmental credentials we are not giving consumers an accurate picture.
“Method of production, for example heated greenhouses, often has a far bigger impact than miles travelled on a product’s carbon footprint.
“If consumers are given a misleading impression it will only lead to token gestures towards ‘going green’, rather than real results.”
The FTA claims that giving too much credence to country of origin labels may even have undesirable consequences.
“By deterring people from buying produce from Africa or Asia we risk penalising millions trying to make a living in the developing world,” said Snelling.
Much of the fruit and vegetables that comes into the UK from Africa and Asia arrives via air freight, which according to the FTA, contributes to around 0.6 per cent of UK carbon emissions.
Food from far flung destinations can even have a lower carbon footprint that products produced and processed in Western Europe. The FTA quoted a recent Waitrose report saying: “Airfreighted produce can have a lower carbon footprint than produce grown in Northern Europe because of the additional heating required when growing crops in a cooler climate.”
While food miles may not be the whole story they undoubtedly contribute to carbon emissions. To find out exactly what that contribution is the FTA launched the Logistics Carbon Reduction Scheme (LCRS) last week.
The initiative requires members to submit their fuel data to the trade body. The information will then be analysed and sent to the government to help inform policy and reveal ways of reducing emissions.