Degree Name

Master of Science – Research


School of Earth and Environmental Sciences


This study ‘follows’ greenhouse-grown tomatoes from farms to Sydney fruit shops to investigate some of the practicalities around accounting for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in fresh food. These issues affect the feasibility and reach of campaigns such as ‘food miles’, which aim for consumer-led supply chain emission reductions. I do so by deploying two seemingly contrasting approaches: one based on a quantitative accounting of energy, water and waste, the other based on ‘following’ the food in a cultural research framework. Data was collected from semi-structured interviews of farmers, wholesalers at Sydney Markets and Sydney fruit shop owners. The study estimates GHG emissions by applying quantitative methodologies including the National Greenhouse Account Factors. Water and waste issues are considered. The study also qualitatively analyses stakeholder views and knowledge by identifying and discussing themes throughout the interview texts.

The study starts from the consumer standpoint where people concerned about climate change might seek to purchase the most GHG-efficient tomatoes, and from there looks back into the supply chain to examine how well this information can be provided to the consumer. The study concludes that on its own, food miles is not a suitable indicator for comparing GHG emissions from different chains of one product. Transport fuel was found to be a substantial source of GHG emissions from a particular chain only in some cases. Other factors, particularly stationary energy use, can have a greater impact on a business’s GHG emission profile. On-farm GHG emissions appear far greater than emissions from fuel used for transport to market, per unit of tomatoes sold or carried. They also appear much greater, per unit of tomatoes, than GHG emissions at wholesalers or retailers.

Further, across-the-board life cycle assessment (LCA) or even food mile labelling would probably not be practical for accurate appraisal of actual daily journeys of fresh fruit and vegetables going through the central market. Variance of business practices can result in substantial differences in the GHG emissions associated with two versions of the final product (in this case 1kg of tomatoes) sitting side-by-side in a fruit shop. Different business practices and use of resources also complicates development of standard methods to collect and communicate accurate information down the chain.

Costs and availability of lower GHG-emitting practices are assessed as the key factors for potential change among higher emitting participants. There does not appear to be great prospect for reducing GHG emissions in this tomato chain via cooperation between actors along the chain. Increasing their knowledge of climate change and the connection to their business would be beneficial. Their knowledge about the weather could be built on in this context. At the same time, several participants displayed a lack of quantitative knowledge about their business’s resource inputs. Further research into the reasons behind this could lead to better ways to reduce water use and waste, as well as GHG emissions.

Even without carbon labelling or food mile labelling as an ultimate aim, following Australian fresh food chains through contrasting epistemologies and methods could help reduce GHG emissions, by identifying particular areas along the chain to target reduction efforts.