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We have been told about food miles in school, but what food is transferred by aeroplanes to get to us, and how do we find that when buying something?

Sia, 5 years
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Foods that are transported by plane have a high carbon footprint. Transporting food by air emits around 50 times as much greenhouse gases as transporting the same amount by sea.

Some shops will have information on their websites whether they use air freight. Veg box providers Riverford and Able & Cole mention that they do not use air freight. You could also ask or email a supplier or shop - they could let you know or at least realise that there are consumers who are concerned.

Many packaging labels have the country of ‘origin’ which can give a clue to if the food may have been flown in. This is not a reliable method because the food could have been shipped by sea.

Here are some foods that are likely to be air-freighted:

  • If a highly perishable food comes from far away, it has likely been air-freighted. Highly perishable foods need to be eaten soon, and shipping by sea can be too slow for them. Common examples in the UK are blueberries (from Australia, New Zealand, South America), mangoes (from Asia), asparagus & blackberries (from South America), green beans, baby corn, mangetout, sugar snap peas & tender stem broccoli (from Africa) and seafood.
  • High value goods (tobacco, alcohol)
  • Some organic fruit & vegetables
  • Exports from countries where the road / sea route is less convenient (like sub-Saharan Africa)

Here's a list of foods along with information from Transport Information Service whether they could be air freighted or not. Note that these are only guidelines and do not imply that the foods certainly are or are not air freighted.

Type of foodFoods that can be air freightedFoods that are generally not air freighted
Luxury itemsChocolate
Tea (especially Darjeeling tea)
Coffee, coffee beans
Cocoa, cocoa beans
Sugar
Preserved foodsPreserved sausages
Preserved meat
Preserved fish
Preserved vegetables
Preserved fruit
BeveragesRumBeer
Fresh fruitPineapple
Apples
Avocados
Pears
Clementines
Grapefruit
Blueberries
Cherries
Kiwifruit
Limes
Mandarins
Mangoes
Oranges
Peaches/nectarines
Grapes
Lemons
Banana
Dried fruitDried apples
Dried apricots
Dried dates
Dried figs
Currants
Prunes
Raisins
Sultanas
Fresh vegetablesArtichokes
Cucumbers
Carrots
Potatoes
Sweet peppers
Asparagus
Tomatoes
Onions
Garlic
Ginger
Dried vegetablesDried beans
Dried peas
Dried lentils
Soybeans
Nuts & seedsCoconuts
Almonds
Pistachio nuts
Walnuts
Cashew nuts
Peanuts
Hazelnuts
Chestnuts
Brazil nuts
Apricot kernels
Linseed
Flax seed
Poppy seed
Sunflower seeds
Meat/fish/dairy productsChilled meat
Frozen meat
Frozen fish
Butter
Cheese
CerealsBarley
Oats
Corn
Rice
Rye
Wheat
SpicesAniseed
Chillies
Fennel seed
Cloves
Dried ginger
Cardamom
Coriander seeds
Caraway seeds
Bay leaves
Mace
Nutmeg
Paprika
Pepper
Allspice
Saffron
Sage leaves
Salt
Mustard
Star anise
Vanilla
Cinnamon
OilsPeanut oil
Hemp oil
Coconut oil
Linseed oil
Olive oil
Palm oil
Rapeseed oil
Castor oil
Mustard oil
Sesame oil
Sunflower oil
Herring oil
Seal oil

 

Bibliography

Blythman J, “Food Miles: The True Cost of Putting Imported Food on Your Plate” (The Independent, May 2007)

Cargo Site Map – Transport Informations Service” (www.tis-gdv.de)

Lewis R, Lawrence F and Jones A, “Miles and Miles and Miles” (The Guardian, May 2003)

Ritchie H and Roser M, “Environmental Impacts of Food Production” (Our World in Data, 2020)

Smith A and others, “The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development Final Report Produced for DEFRA” (2005)

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