Monday, April 11, 2011

Nitrogen footprint warning from European agency

The Guardian (UK): Nitrogen pollution is costing every person in Europe up to £650 a year in damage to water, climate, health and wildlife, a study warns. Scientists behind the research said nitrogen was needed as fertiliser to help feed a growing world population – but suggested that eating less meat could reduce the amount of pollution caused by agriculture.

The report for the European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA) also suggests with 60% of costs of the nitrogen damage stemming from fossil fuels burned for energy generation and transport, more energy-efficient homes and less long-distance travel could help. More efficient use of fertilisers in food production is also needed, the report said.

However, the researchers stopped short of calling for a fertiliser tax to reduce the use of nitrogen in agriculture. Professor Bob Watson, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, welcomed the first assessment of the Europe-wide impact of nitrogen, but warned that higher costs as a result of a tax would be passed on to consumers.

The report by 200 experts from 21 countries in Europe, puts the annual cost of nitrogen pollution on air, soils, water, increased greenhouse gases and damage to wildlife at €70bn-€320bn (£62bn-£282bn). The cost works out at between £130 and £650 a year for everyone in Europe.

Nitrogen contributes to air pollution that causes respiratory problems, such as asthma and cancers, and reduces life expectancy by six months across much of Europe. Nitrates in water are bad for human health and damage wildlife including fish stocks. Nitrous oxide is also a greenhouse gas. … Much of the nitrogen pollution from agricultural production is linked to meat and dairy farming, as the crops needed to feed them are grown with the help of fertilisers….

A French cow, shot by Chrescht, Wikiimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

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