This project will evaluate the comparative life cycle burdens of alternative food supply chains for seven indicator foodstuffs, bought by UK consumers. The study will evaluate these seven commodities with the alternative country of origin given in brackets: Tomatoes (Spain); Strawberries (Spain); Apples (New Zealand); Potatoes (Egypt); Poultry and beef (Brazil) and Lamb (New Zealand). In each case, one of the alternative means of production requires either a substantial energy input for UK production or refrigerated transport, or may suffer substantial wastage during transport or storage. Each commodity is regarded as an indicator for a range of similar crops: salads; top fruit; soft fruit; field vegetables; meat reared indoors under intensive conditions; meat reared outdoors under extensive conditions.
The production and delivery of these products from different sources needs to be analysed to determine if there are modes or locations of production that offer significant reductions in environmental burdens over others. For example, energy demand from Mediterranean grown tomatoes is likely to be less than from heated greenhouses in Britain. Conversely, increased production of field-grown salads and vegetables in the Mediterranean area may deplete water supplies, increase soil salinization and decrease water quality through eutrophication and pesticide contamination and causes a loss of natural habitat.
The Cranfield University team has analysed the environmental burdens of producing commodities up to the farm gate in Britain, using the method of environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) in the Defra-funded project IS0205. Environmental burdens include energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, the potential for eutrophication and land use. The same approach will be used for farm production in this study to overseas production. The analysis will be extended through the whole supply chain (packaging, processing, transport, cooling and storage) up to the point where further progress is identical. For most commodities, this is the retail distribution centre (RDC). The scope of analysis will also be extended to address the following wider eco-services: loss of habitat, potential loss of biodiversity, loss of soil C, soil salinization, limits to water supply and damage to water resources.