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Miles better? How ‘fair miles’ stack up in the sustainable supermarket

In 2007, ‘food miles’ shot to the top of consumer concerns in the UK. Buying goods that took the shortest route from farm to table was widely seen as a way of shrinking carbon footprints. This left airfreighted produce singled out as the epitome of unsustainable consumption, and some UK retailers began to label flown items such as green beans from Kenya. Yet looking at the bigger picture, fresh produce airfreighted from Africa accounts for less than 0.1 per cent of UK emissions, and per capita emissions from sub-Saharan Africa are minuscule compared to those in industrialised countries. Against this background are the million-plus African livelihoods supported by growing the produce. Within the grocery supply chain the time is ripe for ‘fair miles’ — a working idea that puts development in the South on the environmental agenda, and allows UK retailers a more balanced response on behalf of their millions of customers.

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