Food distribution

From Appropedia

The food distribution or supply chain of food determines the price of food, and the revenue that can be attained by the many parties that form the supply chain. Not every party receives an equally large percentage of the final price demanded to the consumer (which forms , he last link). Moreover, parties that need to perform more work are often a greater portion of the revenue than the others (especially the traders attain a higher revenue).

Makeup of the agricultural supply chain[edit | edit source]

  • Producers (farmers)
  • Processors and manufacturers
  • Retailers and exporters
  • Consumers

Disavantages of long supply chains[edit | edit source]

Substantial climate-disrupting carbon emissionsW, boosted by the transport of food over long distances, are of growing concern as the world faces such global crisisW as natural resource depletion, peak oil and climate change.[1] “The average American meal currently costs about 1500 miles, and takes about 10 caloriesW of oil and other fossil fuels to produce a single calorie of food.” [2] Buying food from local farmers reduces the distance the food has to travel and so also reduces carbon offsets.

Another disadvantage of centralised (large-scale) food distribution systems is that the control of quality is increasingly decided by the middlemen while a local food system redevelops these relationships and encourages a return of quality control to the consumer and the producer respectively. These quality characteristics are not only in the product but in the method of producing.[3]

Reducing the number of links in the chain[edit | edit source]

Besides the environmental advantages, reducing the distance by producing the food locally also allows economical advantages for the people in the supply chain. This as the longer the distance that needs to be travelled, the longer the chain and the less revenue can be made by each party. This can be done as less retailers and importers/exporters are needed. This, as the price of a specific product is often legally bound to not exceed a specific value (this is especially true for prices of staple crops, ...). This as greater revenue can be attained by the people that actually do the most work (ie farmers, processors, ...). In addition, systems could potentially be made that fixes the revenue attained from the consumer to a fairer percentage, in line with the needed work.

Global food transport[edit | edit source]

Because we are capable of transporting food relatively quickly, a variety of food is available to the consumer that would not be available to consumers if they were to rely only upon locally produced food. We are able to eat soy beans form china, avocado from southern America, and sugar from Hawaii. These are only a few examples of what is available to us due to modern technology. Many plants are only able to grow in a certain region of the globe, but because of the speed in which we are able to transport things, we are able to eat things which would have gone bad had they had to been transferred by hand, horse or other means.

Local food production[edit | edit source]

Local food production is part of the concept of local purchasingW and local economiesW, a preference to buy locally produced goods and services. Those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food sometimes call themselves "localvores" or locavores.[4]

The local or regional food movement is a "collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies - one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place"[5] and is considered to be a part of the broader sustainabilityW movement.

Although plants are best grown in their native region, plants can also be grown in regions where they are not native, yet where the climate is similar to the region they originally came from. The soil can also be made to contain similar amounts of plant nutrients so the plant can thrive on this new location. In addition, in the event the plant does not yet thrive as well as we like, there are measures around this. For example, because we are able to genetically modify food, we are also able to grow food in regions that would otherwise not be able to grow certain varieties of food. We are able to make plants more resistant to cold and drought, which allows us to grow food in colder and drier regions. Conventional methods allow us to preserve food longer and put food to more uses.

There has been considerable debate about where farms are best located. Many environmentalists advocate urban developments with high population density as a way of preserving agricultural land and maximizing energy efficiency. However, others have theorized that sustainable ecocities, or ecovillages which combine habitation and farming with close proximity between producers and consumers, may provide greater sustainability.

The use of available city space (e.g., rooftop gardensW, community gardens, garden sharingW, and other forms of urban agriculture for cooperative food production is another way to achieve greater sustainability.

One of the latest ideas in achieving sustainable agricultural involves shifting the production of food plants from major factory farming operations to large, urban, technical facilities called vertical farms. The advantages of vertical farming include year-round production, isolation from pests and diseases, controllable resource recycling, and on-site production that reduces transportation costs. While a vertical farm has yet to become a reality, the idea is gaining momentum among those who believe that current sustainable farming methods will be insufficient to provide for a growing global population.[6]

Local versus global food production[edit | edit source]

Critics of the local food movement point out that food transport is only one component that makes up the carbon footprint. According to a study by engineers Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon UniversityW, of all the greenhouse gases emitted by the food industry, only 4% comes from transporting the food from producers to retailers. The study also concluded that adopting a ecologic diet (ie vegetarianW diet, ...), even if the vegetarian food is transported over very long distances, does far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, than does eating a locally grown diet that ie still includes meat.[7]

In addition to this, we need to remember that besides the distance of transport for the food there are also other factors that influence the total environmental impact of food production and consumption[8] [9]. Some major things are:

  • using what vehicle has the food been transported this distance ? Ie transport by ship is often the cleanest way to transport food[10], followed by airplane [11]and then truck[12]. This btw assumes vehicles with regular fuels/drivetrains (ie fossil-fuels, regular IC-engines), if other fuels/drivetrains are used, the carbon footprints/100 km can differ significantly.
  • how the food has been produced (ie small-scale/industrial, organic or conventional food production) and what type of energy (renewable/non-renewable) is used in its production ?
  • how well the vehicle was loaded (was the food compressed, was all space in the vehicle used, what packing was used, ...)?

For example:

  • it is likely to be more environmentally friendly for tomatoes to be grown in Spain and transported to the UK than for the same tomatoes to be grown in greenhouses in the UK requiring energy to heat them. Solutions to this (which still involve using tomatoes -a non-native crop which requires a lot of heat-) could include using renewable energy sources such a solar, geothermal or wind, and/or growing seasonal crops in the greenhouses (ie growing crops that require little heat in the spring/fall/winter, such as cabbage, lettuce/rucola, ...).

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Heinberg, Richard. Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World. Canada: New Society Publishers, 2004.
  2. Astyk, Sharon. Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front. Canada: New Society Publishers, 2008.
  3. Sonnino, R. & Marsden, T. (2006) Beyond the Divide: rethinking relationships between alternative and conventional food networks in Europe. Economic Journal of Geography. pp. 181-199.
  4. Roosevelt, M. (2006) The Lure of the 100-Mile Diet. Time Magazine. Sunday June 11, 2006. Accessed at,9171,1200783,00.html on Nov 1, 2007 at 10:35 am PDT).
  5. Feenstra, G. (2002) Creating space for sustainable food systems: lessons from the field. Agriculture and Human Values. 19(2). 99-106.
  6. Vertical Farming
  7. Food miles are less important to environment than food choices, study concludes, Jane Liaw, special to, June 2, 2008]
  8. Food Miles: Comparative Energy/Emissions Performance of New Zealand’s Agriculture Industry
  9. Food That Travels Well, The New York Times, August 6, 2007
  10. ? kg CO²/100 km
  11. ? kg CO²/100 km
  12. ? kg CO²/100 km