Food miles

food miles campaign

The issue of ‘food miles’ comes round regularly, especially at Christmas time and other holidays. Starting from when it was known in Britain as NUMAST, Nautilus ran a long UK campaign to highlight the fact that food imported by sea can often be responsible for less carbon pollution than locally-produced food.

In November 2006, the Times carried a report headlined: ‘Christmas lunch will fly 84,000 miles to your table’ – but as most Union members will know, the reality is that well over 90% of UK food imports come by sea rather than air.

The Union ran a campaign to draw the public’s attention to the products that come by sea. We highlighted that if the underlying concerns are about the environment, then ‘food miles’ should be about more than just the distance food travels. The concept is more complex, and needs to take account of the dramatic differences in the amounts of energy consumed by different modes of transport to move the same amount of cargo. Farming methods in different climates also have a part to play, meaning, for example, that it can be less polluting overall to ship fruit and vegetables a long distance by sea than to produce these locally in an artificially-heated glasshouse. 

Nautilus worked with other shipping industry bodies and lobby groups to ensure that the public and politicians received the full facts on food miles rather than the myths. Through campaign leaflets, stickers, and promotional activities, the Union highlighted the importance of shipping to the UK and the wider world. 

Thanks to work like this, the debate on food miles has now moved on (for now), with most commentators these days acknowledging the complexities of the issue. However, there is still some way to go before we dispel the widespread myth that the majority of imported food arrives by air. As Nautilus International, the Union therefore still campaigns today around this issue on a Union-wide basis, rather than just focussing on the UK.

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