Blanket ban on airfreighted fresh produce will do nothing to help Net Zero and put millions of livelihoods at risk, meeting hears

More than 200 stakeholders from 34 countries, representing fresh produce suppliers and retailers, academia, policy officers, and the international trade and development sector gathered at a roundtable discussion on 30 April in Brussels to debate whether airfreighted fresh produce should be banned in order to achieve Net Zero emissions targets.

Fairmiles round table

The meeting was organised in response to recent airfreight bans introduced by several European retailers.

During the discussion, James MacGregor, development economist and author of ‘Fair Miles: recharting the food miles map’, and Dr Ebenezer Laryea, associate professor in international sustainable development law at the University of Northampton revealed the results of the latest research by Fairmiles which suggests that at least 18m livelihoods in developing countries are supported by airfreighted horticultural exports into Europe.

This includes 1.25m agricultural jobs and a further 2.4m jobs in supply chains. They explained that the revenue and foreign exchange generated by this sector is needed to allow for domestic investments, including measures to reach Net Zero.

The roundtable heard how farmers and vulnerable populations in in developing countries, despite being the least responsible for climate change, are already bearing the brunt of its consequences.

This raises the question as to whether it is fair to introduce a policy that will disproportionately affect the livelihoods of these same people, rather than looking at reducing CO2 emissions in other parts of the supply chain.

It was revealed that transport of all food accounts for 1.56 per cent of total global CO2e emissions. Of this, only 0.16 per cent travels by air. Further, the bulk of airfreighted fresh produce is transported in the bellyhold of passenger planes, which would still fly with bellyholds filled with other cargo if airfreighted produce were to be banned.

The roundtable also heard how, in light of increasing restrictions, exporters in developing countries may be forced to investigate alternative markets to Europe who may be less demanding and potentially less lucrative for the livelihoods depending on it.

A poll conducted during the roundtable found an overwhelming majority (96 per cent) voted ‘no’ to the question of whether blanket bans on airfreighted fresh produce are a useful tool to achieve Europe’s climate ambitions.

During the event, participants were also asked to contribute ideas for next steps. Suggestions included: More published research and data to better understand the key environmental, social and economic impacts to inform responsible decision making; science-based climate justice Net Zero guidelines for policy makers and buyers; and the need for more dialogue and engagement with key stakeholders, including retailers, NGOs, consumers.

Jeremy Knops, general delegate at COLEAD, commented: “Agricultural export value chains are fundamental for low-income countries. Banning airfreight would have devastating consequences, leading to significant job losses and loss of income for some of the most vulnerable people in global supply chains”.

When speaking about measures being taken by the European Union to fight climate change, Martijn Boelen, head of sector trade at the Directorate-General for International Partnerships (INTPA) at the European Commission, said: “What you do not hear is that we (the European Commission), forbid to forbid stuff. We make things more expensive, we make sure there is a level playing field…. but what we will not do, I’ve not seen any proposals ever, is to say ‘ok you cannot fly in fresh produce anymore’”.

Following the Roundtable, Fairmiles said it will continue to research and raise awareness of the impacts of airfreighted fresh produce, and engage more with key stakeholders to seek how a fair approach to Net Zero emissions can be achieved without unintended consequences on livelihoods.