International transportation of food emits 7.5 times more greenhouse-gas emissions than previously thought, according to a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Nature Food.
More than a third of those emissions come from the international transport of fruits and vegetables. The report mentions that this amount is almost double the amount required to grow them.
As wealthier nations keep their year-round supply of fruits and vegetables high in demand, this results in 46% of food-mile emissions, although those countries make up just 12.5% of the world’s population.
The research found that carbon calculations around plant-based diets are even more complicated. Although the bulk of agricultural production emissions are due to raising livestock for meat, fruits and vegetables are more carbon-intensive as they are shipped. Fruits and vegetables are transported in bulk, and they require refrigeration during transport. According to the researchers, it produces more emissions.
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Eating locally grown food to cut emissions
It’s not just about eating vegetables and fruits that can help cut greenhouse gas emissions but switching to locally grown foods. Study lead author Mengyu Li said, “Dietary change strategies to reduce animal product consumption and promote plant-based foods should at least be coupled with switching to more local production, especially in high-income countries.”
The study also showed that international trade in agriculture and food increased by more than 100% between 1995 and 2018. Food transport is responsible for 27% of total global freight emissions and 19% of total food system emissions.
The study noted that transporting fruits and vegetables by truck emits more carbon per mile of cargo per tonne than shipping by sea.
The food transport system will need to replace fossil fuel trucks and ships with low-carbon alternatives, such as vehicles that run on batteries, biofuels or hydrogen, to reduce emissions around the world.