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Environmental comparison of locally grown vs imported vegetables

Environmental comparison of locally grown vs imported vegetables

how sustainable is…

This study compares vegetables grown locally (in the UK) to vegetables imported into the UK from overseas, in terms of the difference in environmental impact. It is based on broccoli, salad crops and green beans and assumes the vegetables are either grown in the UK or imported from Spain (broccoli, lettuces), Uganda (lettuces and green beans) and Kenya (green beans). The study covers the entire life cycle of the above vegetables from farming to transport, storage, retail and consumption.

The study suggests that ‘food miles’ are not a reliable indicator of the environmental impact of vegetables. I.e. locally grown vegetables can have a higher environmental impact than imported ones, e.g. if the locally grown vegetables were grown ‘out of season’, in heated greenhouses with a CO2 enriched atmosphere or stored until they can be sold in the ‘off-season’. With regards to vegetables imported by airfreight (as opposed to land and sea transport), the study suggests that the environmental impact is generally higher, even if compared to vegetables grown in the off-season. However, for some vegetables even this scenario is not clear cut when land, water and pesticide use are taken into account.

The study also notes that the results vary significantly between farms. In other words, farming practices have a noticeable influence on the overall environmental impact.

While the study did not investigate the home preparation (e.g. cooking) of the vegetables in detail, it notes that this stage has a significant impact on the environmental impact overall. E.g. the environmental impact of cooking vegetables for a long time may well be greater than the impact associated with its production and transport.

Link to full report

While we make every effort to be accurate, we do not claim that this summary is representative. Please refer to our Legal Disclaimer for details.

what can I do to reduce my environmental footprint?

In short, to minimise your impact on the environment, it is best to:

  • buy vegetables that are grown locally
  • that are ‘in season’
  • to eat vegetables raw or cook them only as much as required to maximise their nutritional benefits, i.e. avoid ‘over cooking’ them.

Report Rating: 3 out of 3

Report Published: 2008

Country: UK

Author(s):  Llorenç Milà i Canals, Ivan Muñoz, Almudena Hospido, Katharina Plassmann, Sarah McLaren

Publisher: Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey

Funder: Rural Economy and Land Use programme (RELU)

Keywords: life cycle analysis, LCA, cradle to grave analysis, environmental footprint, food miles, locally grown, imported, vegetables, food, green beans, broccoli, salad, lettuce, greens, legumes, brassica


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