Our “Foodprint:” It's Not Just the Miles

Our "Foodprint:" It's Not Just the Miles

Washington, D.C.-Our environmental "foodprint" is determined not just by how far food travels, but also by what we eat and how it was produced, according to the latest issue of World Watch magazine. Final delivery from producer and processor to the point of retail sale accounts for only 4 percent of the U.S. food system's greenhouse gas emissions. Overall transportation, which includes so-called "upstream miles" and emissions associated with the transport of fertilizer, pesticides, and animal feed, accounts for about 11 percent of the food system's emissions, according to Sarah DeWeerdt, author of "Is Local Food Better?"

In this first installment of a two-part series on the potential impacts of greater food localization, DeWeerdt explains that if what you eat matters as much as how far it travels, then red meat and dairy production remain agriculture's overwhelming "hotspots." The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that livestock account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions-more than all forms of fossil fuel-based transport combined.

Citing a study by Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon University, DeWeerdt explains that agricultural production accounts for the bulk of the food system's greenhouse gas emissions. "In the United States, 83 percent of emissions occur before food even leaves the farm gate," writes DeWeerdt.

Look for part two of this series in the July/August issue of World Watch, which will examine the economic implications of greater food localization.