, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 560-576

An Environmental Assessment of Food Supply Chains: A Case Study on Dessert Apples

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Abstract

The contemporary food system provides consumers with convenience, extensive choice, and the year-round availability of fresh produce. In this paper these achievements are recognized within the context of the associated environmental impacts. While many analyses have considered the energy and material efficiency of various options for food production and packaging, very few studies have investigated the environmental impacts of the transport components of food supply chains. This is surprising, given that the global sourcing of food produce, centralized distribution systems, and shopping by car have become prevalent in recent decades and have contributed to an increase in the distance between producer and consumer or “food miles.”

In a case study the transport energy consumption is calculated for all possible ways in which dessert apples can be supplied to the UK consumer. The aim is to assess the environmental performance of the predominant fresh produce supply chains and to investigate claims that localized systems are more environmentally efficient. The main criteria used to compare the environmental efficiency in alternative food supply chains are the transport-related fossil-fuel energy consumption and associated carbon dioxide emissions.

Analysis of the empirical data shows that transportation is now responsible for a considerable fraction of the total energy consumption in the life cycle of fresh apples, and in most cases exceeds the energy consumed in commercial apple cultivation. By developing local production and marketing systems for fresh products, transport demand can be reduced and many of the environmental impacts associated with existing supply chains can be avoided. The results of the study are then discussed in relation to the wider issues of transport policy, international trade, food security, and product-related environmental information for consumers.