Through the process of globalization, food has experienced an intense territorial restructuring process. Local agric-food links have weakened at the same time as daily products arrived from distant lands. There is presently a wide international debate on the importance of transport in the configuration of the agric-food system and its contribution in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG). The direct environmental costs of the transport of imported food, that is the ‘external food miles’, have been estimated in kilometer (km), ton (t), ton-kilometer (t-km) and GHG in Spain between 1995 and 2011. The analysis is made by ten food groups including 136 products, with special attention to the most important ones (cereals and animal feed), as well as by means of transport (air, rail, road and water) and from 113 different countries belonging to six geographical areas. Two phases are identified during this period: an expansive phase (1995–2007), in which the t-km of imported food increased from 81.8 to 147.8 million t-km and environmental pressure rose from 3.1 to 5.4 million CO2-eq t, and a recession phase (2007–2011), in which environmental pressure subsided as a consequence of the reduction of imports, even though it still remained above the 1995 level. The article reveals a clear interrelation between amounts, distances and modal distribution when it comes to determining the environmental cost of transporting food imports in the two periods studied. It also reflects on the role of the external food miles in the Spanish agri-food system from a sustainability perspective.