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Food products and carbon footprints

By Matthew Godson
Wednesday, 11th April 2012

The carbon footprint of a food product relates to the entire ‘food cycle’ of the product. The term ‘food miles’ is one common way used to measure a food’s carbon footprint. This concept originated in the early 1990s, and relates to the distance that food is transported, from the time of its production until it reaches the end user, being the consumer.

In today’s society, the globalisation of trade has moved the supply of food from generally local sources to national, even international, supply bases and chains. Changes in delivery patterns and technologies of food products have seen an increase in processed and packaged foods. These foods flow between distribution centres and supermarkets, accounting for large amounts of energy use in their transport and production stages. This use of energy creates greenhouse gas emissions, adding to the perceived carbon footprint of what we eat, be it meat, fish, cereals or vegetables.

The ‘nature to dinner table’ supply chain of wild-living, free-range and organic meat can be as simple as heading out into a farmer’s paddock and harvesting a wild rabbit or fishing or netting a tasty fish or yabbies from a dam on the property. Alternatively, it could be a lot harder work and be the end result of a weekend hike into deer or trout country with a heavy load of venison or trout in your pack on the return trip. In both situations, this food would have a small carbon footprint and the food miles would be simply insignificant when compared with other forms of food sourcing from modern agricultural and distribution systems.

In most situations, wild food has not been subject to production systems and has therefore had limited opportunity for food producers to expend energy and resources that create greenhouse gas emissions. Only a limited amount of energy is potentially used to deliver wild harvested food from the field to the plate on the family table. Most wild food is sourced while undertaking an array of activities in a person’s leisure time. The actual activity of obtaining the wild food is a small part of a wider lifestyle experience such as a camping trip, a quick getaway from the big smoke or a weekend away with friends or family.

As well as the health benefits to you by physically harvesting your own wild food from the field or water, eating organic, free-range, high-quality and high protein food is good for your health. Harvesting wild food from the field is also good the environment, as it helps keep the natural balance in the ecosystem.

Food with low food miles, a small carbon footprint and minimal human intervention and energy use can only be a good thing, right?