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Food Policy 30 (2005) 1–19

Farm costs and food miles: An assessment of the full cost of the UK weekly food basket
J.N. Pretty


, A.S. Ball a, T. Lang b, J.I.L. Morison


Department of Biological Sciences and Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ, United Kingdom b Department of Health Management and FoodPolicy, City University, London, United Kingdom

Abstract Changes in both farm production and food transport have resulted in the imposition of new levels of environmental costs. This study analyses the full costs of foods in the average weekly UK food basket by calculating the costs arising at diVerent stages from farms to consumers’ plates. Of the 12 commodities assessed, livestock producecontributes the most costs per kg. The external cost of UK agriculture up to the farm gate is estimated to be £1.51 bn yr¡1; it is calculated that a switch to organic production could lead to avoided costs of £1.13 bn yr¡1. Agricultural and food produce accounts for 28% of goods transported on UK roads, currently imposing estimated external costs of £2.35 bn yr¡1. The contribution made by sea and airtransport is currently trivial owing to low volumes. However, road transport to carry food from the shop to home is estimated to impose a further £1.28 bn yr¡1 to total external costs. Subsidies not targeted at environmental improvements cost consumers £2.88 bn yr¡1. Thus the real cost of the per capita UK food basket (£24.79) is calculated to be £2.91 more per person wk¡1 (11.8%) if externalitiesand subsidies are included, with farm externalities (81 p), domestic road transport (76 p), government subsidies (93 p) and shopping transport (41 p) contributing the most. We assess a variety of scenarios for adoption of organic farming, localised food systems and sustainable transport to indicate the substantial potential to reduce environmental costs in the UK food system.  2005 Elsevier Ltd.All rights reserved.


Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 01206 873323; fax: +44 01026 873416. E-mail address: (J.N. Pretty).

0306-9192/$ - see front matter  2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.foodpol.2005.02.001


J.N. Pretty et al. / Food Policy 30 (2005) 1–19

Evaluating farm and food systems in industrialised countries Recent years haveseen growing concern about the sustainability of agricultural and food systems and the unintended side-eVects that can be imposed on the environment and human health (Conway and Pretty, 1991; Pretty, 1995, 2002; NRC, 2000; UphoV, 2002; Lang and Heasman, 2004). There are many perspectives on what constitutes sustainability and how it can be applied equally across agricultural contexts (Naess, 1992;Dobson, 1999; Pretty et al., 2003a). As a result, a variety of analytical approaches have been developed, including energy accounting (Leach, 1976; Cormack and Metcalfe, 2000; Carlsson-Kanyama et al., 2003), economic valuation of non-marketed goods and services (Pearce and Turner, 1990; Daily, 1997; Costanza et al., 1997; Pretty et al., 2000, 2001), ecological footprints (Rees, 2003), carbonaccounting (Smith and Smith, 2000; Lal et al., 2004), and the use of indicators for sustainability (Lewis et al., 1997; Bailey et al., 1999; OECD, 1998; MAFF, 2000; Caporali et al., 2003). Most of these approaches have focused on environmental impacts up to the farm gate, and have not assessed the additional environmental eVects of transporting foodstuVs via processing to retail outlets and then to thepoint of consumption. Evidence is mounting that these farm to plate transport costs, or ‘food miles’ (Raven and Lang, 1995; Subak, 1999; Jones, 2001; Pirog et al., 2001; Garnett, 2003; Stephens et al., 2003), could be substantial. In addition, there is growing interest in local and regionalised food supply systems and the potential social and environmental beneWts they could bring (Marsden et...
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