A group of Australian scientists have concluded that greenhouse gas emissions associated with the global transport of food (so-called “food miles”) are 3.5 to 3.7 times higher than previously estimated.

In a paper published in the online journal Nature Food, the scientists report that food miles account for 19% of total food system emissions.

“In particular, vegetable and fruit consumption make up more than a third of global food miles emissions, and almost double their production-related emissions,” states the paper.

It also points out that emissions due to food miles are mainly driven by the affluent world, amid a demand for a more diverse range of food options from consumers.

But with pressure in many developed countries to shift diets away from the consumption of animal-based products to plant-based foods, as part of a strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the scientists warn that this cannot be done in isolation. Instead any strategy to shift diets should also encourage a switch to more local production in high-income countries. That includes improving access to, and making it convenient, for consumers to buy local fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry, seafood and dairy products, conclude the researchers.

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