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Food transport and costs

Spanish team

The journey of our food

Live animals, fish, meat, dairy products, fruit, cereals, legumes, sugar, coffee, animal feed... our lifestyle, far from being self-sufficient in food production, needs more and more imported food. Thus begins the long (and not very eco-intelligent) journey of our food.

If we look at a European level, transport represents 40% of the final energy consumed, coming almost entirely from petroleum products.

The current agri-food system functions as a globalized industry that allows us to access out-of-season products and various exotic foods, regardless of the (long) journey that these foods experience before reaching our homes.

Not all locally sourced products can be considered more sustainable than food imported from faraway places. Before reaching our plates, food often goes through several months of preparation, production, storage and distribution. The ecological effectiveness of this cycle depends on several factors, such as soil quality, weather conditions, climate suitability, and production and storage methods.

FOOD sustainability

As a general rule, you can be almost certain that meat products, local or not, are less sustainable than imported vegetables even from the farthest point of the planet. Medical or ethical considerations aside, emissions from meat are simply too high, a fact that makes food miles an insignificant part of the comparison.

A Trend of Increasing Transportation

  • Over the last fifty years, increasing globalization has enabled produce to shift much more freely around the globe, as witnessed in the US by the shift to year-round availability of formerly seasonal items. This has necessarily also increased the distances traveled by our food to take one particular instance, grapes coming to Iowa traveled an average of 1,590 miles in the early 70s and an average of 2,848 miles in the late 80s. This additional travel obviously increases the fuel costs involved in transporting the food, and so impacts the environment through greenhouse gas emissions.

What Is the Issue?
Fuel prices, understood to be a major driver of food prices in the United States, can havesignificant impacts on food price levels and volatility. Since consumer demand for fruits and vegetables has been proven to be price-sensitive, fuel price surges could significantly reduce U.S. consumption of fresh produce, at least in the short term. There has been little empirical research to calculate the magnitude of fuel price changes on food prices and how this effect might vary across markets, based on transportation distance or commodity attributes. This study analyzes the relationship between fuel prices and wholesale produce prices using data for 2000-2009.

How Transportation Costs Affect Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Prices?

How Food transport affects the enviroment?

It's more than clear that the transport of food from one country to another pollutes 11 times more damage than food transported in the same region, with air transport being the most polluting. Even the fact of keeping food in refrigerators so that, for instances, you can eat apples all year round, when they mainly come out in spring, regardless of the quality it loses, also harms the environment. Making the agri-food industry the cause of 11-15% of CO2 emissions and that, for example, in Spain, since it increased the import of food products from other countries, it has caused a 67% increase in CO2 emissions in our country

5 ways to cut food transport costs

1. Keep track of weight:

One solution would be to introduce scales on trucks to ensure that they are filled within their weight limits.

2.Reduction of fuel costs:
A rule that specifies a group of trailers and per vehicle group to visit the largest pick-up or delivery first. In this way, you can unload the heaviest items quickly and reduce fuel consumption on the rest of the trip. It would also be beneficial to maintain proactive fuel management. Implement fuel-saving technologies.

3.Managing deliveries and collections on the same route:

One of the main problems in food transport is the operation of empty trucks, as they consume large amounts of money. Try to manage deliveries and collections in one place. For example, if you take food packaging for recycling or any empty containers for refilling, use truck route planning.
4. Use of the article location forecast:
When products are shipped, we have to make sure that the products are shipped to the right places, in the right quantities and at the right times.
5. Ensuring food compatibility:
When it comes to transport in the food supply chain, not all foods are compatible. A truck route planning tool can help. It will allow us to specify product compatibilities, avoid mixing incompatible products in transit and streamline the planning process.

Measures to improve food transport and consumption

- use of online commerce and the development of the retail website: it prevents the buyer from going to the store, does not use transport and avoids the emissions generated by the physical store

- investment and development in technology: electric trucks, drones, more efficient container ships...

- modify our diet for a more vegetarian one or even, the introduction of insects, nutritious powders that are easier to transport...

- decreased consumption of meat products that are less sustainable that need more production increasing costs and pollution.

- growing food in cities (vertical farms, rooftops...) which would avoid having to transport it

- buy fresh seasonal food and avoid eating it at unusual times

- reduce fuel when traveling (proper driving, not overloading...)

- small-scale, social and sustainable agriculture geared towards short channels

- use of more efficient transport: transport on foot, bicycle..., choosing the least polluting, for example, the train instead of the plane or car (the plane can pollute 90% more than the sea or the road)

-look at the labeling and origin of food, promoting the consumption of local products or "zero km products". These began in the USA in the 70s and arrived in Spain in the 80s (slow food movement). They are those whose origin is less than 100 km from the distribution point. These products can be a good alternative, although some factors must be taken into account:

* they reduce the ecological impact since there is less contamination and they have
a positive in: employment, health, community development, local economy, aid
to biodiversity…
* require preparation, production, storage, distribution... which will be
more or less efficient depending on: the quality of the soil, climate, methods of
production, the vehicle used, the energy used in production…
If these factors are not taken into account, the contamination in the
production will be higher than in transport (80% compared to 10%) because it
will cause: destruction of the soil and deforestation, emission of gases,
use of fertilizers…

- Use ecological packaging: avoiding plastic that is more difficult to recycle and is made from non-renewable sources. Instead, use wood and paper, biodegradable materials, metal containers (aluminum)...
- reduce food waste: according to the FAO, 1.3 billion tons are wasted each year, which means the lost of food and the resources used to produce it. Causes:

* waste during processing and manufacturing so it is necessary
optimize processes and management systems

* non-edible portions

* cooking losses

*waste on the plates...

María Dolores Raigón President of the Spanish Society of Ecological Agriculture (SEAE)

Martín Goldman, Vice President of Ecochef Spain, an association that encompasses different agents involved in organic food.


During his speech, the situation of the organic farming sector in our country and the current position with respect to other European countries were addressed. In this context, it was indicated that Spain is the European country with the largest area of organic cultivation and one of the largest in the world.

Raigón indicated that "the data on the increase in internal consumption of organic food gives us great satisfaction."

Regarding the future trend of organic farming in our country, Raigón stated that “the trend is to maintain or increase the figures of the cultivation area.

Goldman not only wanted to "talk about ecological products, but also about the way in which to work ecologically" in the kitchen.

Regarding the values of organic cooking, the guest stated that "our values are to help others to work with organic products, to see the advantages of working with organic products, and to see the advantages of working in an organic way ”.

Goldman was confident in stating that the trend in the consumption of organic food in Spain has been "slow".