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Pelletier, MC, 2016, 'Assessing the energy requirement of local food systems: insights from Australia', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright MC Pelletier 2016


Among the consequences of globalisation and international trade, are lengthening food supply chains. Long supply chains that rely on fossil energy for food production and distribution threaten food security and contribute to climate change. The gains in economic efficiency achieved through trade liberalisation however are accompanied by increased health risks and deteriorating social and environmental conditions.

In contrast, “local food” is produced in close proximity to where it is consumed and producers are often in direct contact with consumers. Local food is often proposed as an alternative to the global distribution of food and a means to regain control over the economic, social and environmental conditions under which it is produced and distributed. There is an assumption amongst local food participants that local is more sustainable, and while this is well established socially and economically, environmental sustainability is less clear.

This study uses an ecological economics framework with fossil energy use as an indicator for the depletion of non-renewable resources of the source function, and as a factor limiting the capacity of the sink function to prevent climate change. Input output analysis in conjunction with energy accounting is used firstly to estimate the total quantity of energy required to satisfy Australian households final demand across broad consumption categories. Food was found to account for 13% of the total energy requirement of households in 2009-10. The most important food categories contributing to this energy footprint were “meat products” (19.3%) followed by “snacks, confectionary, prepared meals” (18.4%).

The research then proceeds to compare the environmental sustainability of two different food systems in Australia. Using a case study in the pork industry, the energy required to produce and deliver local products to final demand is compared to similar products available in the national-global food system. Local producers from three different farms realised energy savings of 9% - 65% across four different pork products, confirming they are delivering better environmental outcomes than the global-national system. This research points to the potential contribution of localised food to improving the sustainability of food systems, and the need for wider investigations into the environmental impacts of local food in Australia.