Sustainable food production

Food production has become globalised. It is possible to buy foods out of season and from abroad. Food is an important resource that can be produced in a more or less sustainable way. When thinking about how sustainable the food production has been, questions to consider are:

  • Where does our food come from?
  • Who produces our food and how?
  • What are living conditions like for the people who produce our food?
  • How far has our food travelled?
  • How many resources have been used producing and transporting our food?
  • Is there a more local alternative?

Food miles

Food miles refer to the distance food has travelled to get from where it was produced to where it is sold. Some people are concerned about the environmental impact of transporting goods over great distances. Many of the foods we eat are grown in other countries where the climate is different. Some of the food harvested in the UK is sent abroad to be processed. This adds miles to the journey of an item of food and therefore means more transport costs and more pollution.

People shopping at a Farmers' Market

Local farmers' markets are increasing in the UK. They are helping to encourage people to buy fresh, local food.

It is important to remember that locally-produced food may not always be better for the environment. For example, some foods do not grow easily in the UK and need heated greenhouses. This means the food produced locally may have a larger carbon footprint than that grown in a warmer climate.

Global production issues

As consumers, we are able to buy goods from around the world in shops and through the internet.

Carbon footprints

Food label showing green beans are flown to the UK from Kenya

Some goods are made up of parts that are manufactured in different countries. A carbon footprint is a measure of how much carbon is used in the production and transportation of a product. It is better for the environment to consume goods with a low carbon footprint.

Some people are concerned about the environmental impact of transporting goods over great distances. Many of the foods we eat are grown in other countries where the climate is different or perhaps where workers are paid less. Some of the food harvested in the UK is sent abroad to be processed, so this has a higher carbon footprint. Food miles are often used to refer to the total distance food has travelled before it is sold.

Products such as fruit can travel many miles to reach people in the UK

Very few products currently contain information about carbon footprints but most have information about where the product was assembled or came from.

More waste

To help keep prices down, the quality of the items may not be so good. The item may therefore be viewed as more disposable. In the UK, the amount of waste we produce is increasing each year. Disposing of goods creates many problems, especially if the material is toxic. Sometimes the waste is shipped abroad, especially if it is marked as recycling.

Pollution

There may also be other environmental issues, for example the production of goods may cause pollution to be released from the factory. LEDCs may not have as tight laws to regulate the amount of pollution allowed so they may be particularly affected.

Lower wages

Companies reduce prices when they compete to attract customers. This has negative impacts. To help cut the cost of production, the workers may not have been paid a fair wage or may not be given breaks during the day. Factories with these kinds of conditions are called sweatshops.

Child labour

Some countries have high rates of child labour. In such countries (mainly within Africa and South Asia), children may be working in factories or are employed by their families.