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Associate professor Sanderine Nonhebel in the national media

14 February 2023
Associate Professor Sanderine Nonhebel

Supermarkets will stop flying in fruit and vegetables, but does that really help the climate?

Supermarkets Lidl and Jumbo will stop selling fruit and vegetables flown in next year. Plus is also working on this. What does this mean for CO2 emissions? 'If you really want to make a profit in the area of climate change, you have to accept that sometimes a product isn't there.' according to Sanderine Nonhebel this makes indeed sense.

Flying is a very polluting form of transport: that applies to people, but just as much to green beans. Reason enough for Lidl to announce that it will no longer fly in fruit and vegetables. It turns out not to be unique: supermarket chain Plus has announced that it has not done this for several years, with the exception of green asparagus, and Jumbo says that it will bring three more exotic fruits to the Netherlands by plane and will stop doing so next year. Albert Heijn does not want to fly in any fruit from next year. Good news for the climate?

Fruit and vegetables in airplanes are not a major factor in global CO2 emissions. Only a fraction of a percent of global food transport is by air, such as berries, asparagus and beans. In total, transport, which mainly takes place by ship, accounts for a few percent of the greenhouse gases associated with food, according to an estimate published last year in Nature Food. Sustainable production of food is generally much more important for the environment than its origin.

However, air transport can greatly increase the climate impact of specific products. Flying easily emits fifty times more greenhouse gas than transport by ship, according to research institute Our World in Data. Compared to road transport, it is about five times more polluting. In a calculation example in which asparagus is flown from South America to Europe, the institute even arrives at an effect that is greater than with chicken and pork, which in most cases are much worse for the climate than vegetables.

Not a simple math

It therefore makes sense for supermarkets to stop flying in fruit and vegetables, says Sanderine Nonhebel, associate professor of environmental science at the University of Groningen. However, it is not easy to say exactly what the difference will be in terms of CO2 emissions. "If you get some of the vegetables that you fly in in the winter from the greenhouses in Westland, for example, a large part of the climate gain is lost again due to the extra energy this costs."

Choose seasonal products

'If you really want to make a profit in the field of climate, you have to accept that a product is sometimes not available,' says Nonhebel. After all, fresh vegetables have to come from far away or be grown in greenhouses when they are not grown in the Netherlands. As a consumer, you can limit the environmental impact of your food yourself by only eating seasonal fruit and vegetables, says the researcher. (Source: Volkskrant)  

Last modified:14 February 2023 10.23 p.m.

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