Production, Storage and Distribution of Food: A Greenhouse Gas Lifecycle Assessment

Jenet, Blair, Environmental Sciences - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Macko, Stephen, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia

Quantifying the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the various steps in the life cycle of food is important for understanding its relative contribution to global warming. The distance between the place of production and retail location, food-miles, is a main point of focus for advocates of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Food-miles is not an adequate metric however for determining the environmental impact of food, as it does not take into account production, storage, and distribution differences.
In this paper, various life cycle analyses indicate that the methods used to produce food such as greenhouses and organic agriculture, in addition to where the food is produced, will be more significant in terms of greenhouse gas contribution than food-miles alone. The use of transportation distance as the only metric to evaluate the carbon footprint of food is too simplistic as the methods used to store food, the amount of food processing that is needed, and the type and amount of food packaging used will also affect the amount of emissions involved in the life cycles of food.
A total life cycle analyses is recommended in order to yield the most accurate results regarding the total carbon footprint of food. Consideration of the food supply chain structure, the scale of food distribution, and modes of transportation used are major factors in determining the size of the carbon footprint from food and are overlooked using the food-miles analysis.

MA (Master of Arts)
Life cycle assessment, Food storage, Food production, Food Distribution, Food miles
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