Food miles - why eat 'local'?

You'll be surprised at how well-travelled your food is.
Learn more
  • Updated:28 Oct 2008

01.The distance food travels

Earth and shopping trolleys

In brief

  • A typical basket of groceries from the supermarket has “food miles” equivalent to two loops of the globe.
  • Food miles were never devised as the sole indicator of a product’s overall environmental impact but rather one component of the larger environmental picture.

“Food miles” measure the distance food travels between production and consumption and the results can be alarming. CHOICE unpacks the concept of food miles and provides tips for eating more sustainably.  

Food miles advocates are calling for localised eating to counter the number of imported products on our supermarket shelves. But is it even possible to eat well on food grown within about 160km of where you live?

Back in 2005, a UK study broke down the dollar value of the environmental costs of producing and transporting food through the supply chain – and coined the term 'food miles'. The premise is that the further a product travels, the more fuel is required, so its greenhouse gas emissions are higher.

By opting for an orange grown in Mildura rather than California, you can reduce food miles from almost 13,000 km to under 600 km. But is it really that simple? Researchers at the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES) found that a typical Melbourne shopping basket has travelled a staggering 70,000 kilometres – almost two loops of the globe.

Please note: this information was current as of October 2008 but is still a useful guide today.

Have these chips seen more of the world than you?

Kettle chipsThe Kettle Chips packet says "made in Australia", with a Sydney address, but the ingredients come from all over:

  • The spuds are sourced from all along Australia's east coast.
  • The salt’s from Price in South Australia.
  • The sunflower oil is extracted in Newcastle and refined in Sydney.

The same goes for its packaging, which comprises fused layers of plastic and aluminium, with coloured ink for labelling.

  • The plastic film is from Wodonga.
  • The inks are made in Melbourne using components from India, China, the US and Europe.
  • Aluminium from Italy is added in Sydney, but the aluminium itself has probably been smelted from Australian bauxite.
  • The chips are made in Shepparton – and then transported to your store!

This one example at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum illustrates the extraordinary number of "food miles" – the distance food is transported between production and consumption – an average product can clock up, even when it's Australian.



Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

Your say - Choice voice

Make a Comment

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments