Thursday, December 22, 2011

USDA Research: Food Miles & Local Beef

Comparing the Structure, Size, and Performance of Local and Mainstream Food
Supply Chains

USDA Economic
Number 99
June 2010

"Transportation fuel use is more closely related to supply chain structure and size than to the distance food products travel. Products in local supply chains travel fewer miles from farms to consumers, but fuel use per unit of product in local chains can be greater than in the corresponding mainstream chains. In these cases, greater fuel efficiency per unit of product is achieved with larger loads and
logistical efficiencies that outweigh longer distances."

This research compared 3 beef supply chains, one that markets local sourced beef via farmer's markets and community supported agriculture (CSA), one that is intermediately sourced to restaurants, supermarkets, and food cooperatives, and one that has a traditional supply chain that utilizes beef finished in the feedlot, slaughtered, processed, shipped, and sourced to restaurants. In terms of food miles, the local supply chain averaged 75 miles, intermediate 300, and mainstream 1645. However due to efficency and economies of scale,  it turns out that the most fossil fuel and energy intensive supply chain is local, averaging 2.18 gallons of fuel per cwt, vs. 1.92 for the mainstream feedlot finished supply chain.  In terms of carbon footprint, we should note that both the intermediate and local supply chains utilize grass fed beef, which would add even more to their environmental foot print in terms of global warming potential.

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