Goal, Scope and Background
The issue of whether food miles are a relevant indicator for the environmental impacts associated with foods has received significant attention in recent years. It is suggested here that issues other than the distance travelled need to be considered. The argument is presented by illustrating the case for the provision of apples.
Materials and Methods
The effects of variability in primary energy requirements for apple cultivation and for other life cycle stages, seasonality (timing of consumption) and loss of produce during storage are studied in this paper, by comparing apples from different supplier countries for consumption in Europe.
Data sources for primary energy use (PEU) of apple production are identified ranging from 0.4–3.8 MJ/kg apples for European and Southern American countries and 0.4–0.7 MJ/kg for New Zealand. This variability is related to different yields and producer management practices in the different countries. Storage loss may range from 5% to 40% for storage periods between 4 and 10 months, and this has a significant effect on the results (e.g. increasing the total PEU by 8–16% when stored for 5–9 months in Europe as compared with a no loss and no storage situation). The storage periods and related storage losses change markedly through the year for imported (i.e. non-European) versus European apples.
The timing of consumption and related storage losses need to be included in the assessment, as this affects the order of preference for locally sourced versus imported apples. The variability in energy requirements in different life cycle stages, but particularly for the fruit production stage, is also significant in this comparative analysis.
Overall, it seems that there are similarities in the total PEU ranges for European and New Zealand apples during the Southern Hemisphere’s apple season (European spring and summer). However, during the European autumn and winter (Northern Hemisphere apple season) PEU values are generally higher for apples imported from the Southern Hemisphere compared with European apples consumed in Europe. However, this latter observation may not hold true where apples for consumption in one European country are imported from another European country, because energy use for road transportation has a significant influence on the result.
Recommendations and Perspectives
Future studies comparing alternative sources of fresh produce need to account for ranges of data for the fruit production and storage stages, which reflect the seasonality of production.
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Milà i Canals, L., Cowell, S.J., Sim, S. et al. Comparing domestic versus imported apples: A focus on energy use. Env Sci Poll Res Int 14, 338–344 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1065/espr2007.04.412
- food miles
- food storage
- food waste primary energy use (PEU)
- Southern Hemisphere