Can Spanish-grown tomatoes that are transported all the way to this country be a better alternative from a climate point of view than Swedish-grown tomatoes? The answer is yes. In some cases, transport contributes to reducing carbon emissions. This is demonstrated in a new study from SIK, the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, commissioned by the Port of Gothenburg.
Åsa Wilske, Senior Manager, Sustainability at the Port of Gothenburg said: "We have focused for a long time on creating sustainable transport solutions. We are now taking a further step forward by looking at the complete life cycle, from production to consumption. By doing so we can create a fairer picture of total climate impact."
SIK, the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, was commissioned by the Port of Gothenburg to investigate the environmental impact of one kilo of tomatoes depending on the method of cultivation and mode of transport.
One kilo of tomatoes from Alicante
The starting point for the study is one kilo of tomatoes grown in Alicante in Spain and transported in different ways to the town of Falköping in Sweden. The study also includes an example of Swedish-grown tomatoes.
The lowest emissions in the study were generated by the Spanish-grown tomatoes that were transported all the way by rail from Alicante to Falköping. The second lowest were for tomatoes transported by sea from Spain to Sweden. In third place was road transport all the way from Spain to Falköping.*
Most emissions were generated by greenhouse-grown Swedish tomatoes. The greatest difference between Swedish and Spanish tomato production is that Swedish production requires heating for a large part of the year. This explains the higher climate impact than the Spanish-grown tomatoes, even if transport is included.
"The example of the Swedish-grown tomatoes is based on the average energy consumption for tomato cultivation in Sweden. The most climate-smart alternative is to choose tomatoes according to the season – Spanish tomatoes in the winter and Swedish tomatoes in the summer," explained Gustaf Zettergren at SIK.
Method of cultivation and mode of transport are the key factors
The study shows that the method of cultivation/agriculture generally plays a greater part in climate impact than the actual transport. But it also demonstrates significant differences between various modes of transport.
"This is a good basis for transport purchasers at Swedish companies who are looking to base their choice on environmental considerations. Cultivation where it is the season and shipping in combination with rail for the transport. Road transport also has an important role to play over shorter distances," said Jacob Minnhagen, Senior Manager Market Development, Port of Gothenburg.
New collaboration with Bilbao
At present, almost all Spanish tomatoes are transported to Sweden by road although the Port of Gothenburg and the Port of Bilbao have recently entered into collaboration to switch more freight from road to sea. In total, 2.3 million tonnes of freight are transported between the two countries each year, much of it food.
"Apart from reduced environmental impact, increased use of shipping will also reduce the pressure on extremely busy roads in Europe," stated Åsa Wilske.