Animals, fuel, fertilizer, pesticides and market-ready meat and dairy products are transported long distances. Still, transport represents a relatively small fraction of the overall carbon footprint and environmental impact of meat and dairy production.
Transporting animals, supplies and retail food products accounts for about 10 percent of meat and dairy’s carbon footprint, primarily due to the carbon dioxide from vehicle engines. Transportation from the processor to retail generated just 1 percent of beef’s footprint and 4 percent of chicken’s. Emissions are much higher for airfreighted food. For example, cheese imported by air has a 46 percent larger footprint than domestically produced cheese. Most imported meat and dairy, however, are shipped by sea, adding less than 1 percent to their carbon footprint.
In addition to greenhouse gases, transport generates air pollutants, including lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (NOx) chlorofluorocarbons , perfluorocarbons, silicon tetrafluoride, benzene and volatile components, heavy metals (cadmium, chrome, copper and zinc) and particulates (dust, ash). These pollutants degrade air quality and harm human health. Some of these gases, particularly nitrous oxide, contribute to acid rain and depleting the ozone layer, which protects Earth from ultraviolet radiation.