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Food and drink sector critical of green road charging

By Jane Byrne , 26-Jan-2009

The industry body for the UK food and drink manufacturing sector claims the proposed new European Commission transport directive would result in food and drink companies having to pass on the resulting costs to consumers.

A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) told FoodProductionDaily.com the planned revision of the ‘Eurovignette’, which aims to charge the road freight haulage sector for the environmental damage it causes, would only increase industry costs and thereby food prices at a time of great economic hardship for many people.

The proposed EC directive, which is currently under review by the European Parliament’s transport committee, suggests that a new toll of a few cent per kilometre should be levied on road haulage companies to ensure they ‘internalise the full external costs’ related to the noise, pollution and congestion they cause.

The proposal forms part of a Commission plan to encourage a shift from air and road freight to rail and waterways freight, which is considered more environmentally sustainable.

Food miles

The FDF spokesperson said as part of its Five-fold Environmental Ambition, its members are already working to embed environmental standards in their food transport practices to achieve fewer and friendlier food transport miles.

“The FDF believes that such voluntary agreements can lead to real reductions in the environmental impact of food transport as born out by the many ‘best practice’ case studies we have already collected from across our membership.”

Competitiveness concerns

Meanwhile, the International Road Transport Union (IRU), which represents trucks, argues that internalising external costs for road transport only, without proper cost-benefit analyses, will undermine the EU's Lisbon goals of boosting growth, jobs and competitiveness and should be stopped, "especially in these times of recession".

"If the EU continues on this path, the revenues collected are likely to be used to further subsidise other transport modes without any environmental gain," said IRU General Delegate to the EU Michael Nielsen.

Road dominance

Jack Semple, policy director for the UK’s Road Haulage Association, previously told this publication that the benefits of rail or water for moving freight are often overstated:

“Road will remain the dominant freight network over the coming years as it offers reliability of service and flexibility in terms of loading/unloading and sourcing, and truck manufacturers have made huge strides in recent years in reducing vehicle pollution," he argues.

Semple maintains that food and drink manufacturers can improve efficiency in terms of goods distribution by re-examining their operations, planning ahead, giving advanced indication of busy periods to haulage companies and fully optimizing daily vehicle loading and unloading.

The EP transport committee is set to adopt its first report on the green road charging proposal on 11 February, and it then goes before the full parliament in Strasbourg in March. The directive, should it come into force, would remain a voluntary one, allowing member states to execute it only if they choose to do so.

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