Nitrogen strategy 'must balance food and environment'

A STRATEGY to improve the efficiency of nitrogen use in farming must balance the importance of producing food with the need to protect the environment, a major conference has concluded.

At the end of last week’s Nitrogen and Global Change’ international conference, in Edinburgh, 350 scientists, policymakers, industry and NGO representatives agreed a statement outlining mechanisms for tackling nitrogen pollution in Europe and elsewhere.

The ‘Edinburgh Declaration on Reactive Nitrogen’ was clear about the damage caused by the various forms of nitrogen pollution and farming’s prominent role in this. But it also acknowledged that tackling this pollution must not be at the expense of food production and other beneficial activities linked to nitrogen usage.

This followed a vociferous defence of the use of nitrogen in farming by the agricultural industry, following the publication of the first European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA) on the first day of the event.

The ENA estimated that the cost of all forms of nitrogen pollution to society was €70 billion to €320 billion per year across the EU. Over half of the estimated damage cost was associated with impacts of reactive nitrogen on human health, in addition to significant impacts on ecosystems and climate.

The declaration said these costs represent a ‘substantial offset’ of the economic benefits of nitrogen production for food, energy and manufactured products.

It called for the development of an overall strategy to reduce the losses and adverse impacts of reactive nitrogen on society. This should be focused on improving nitrogen use efficiency, particularly in agriculture, in ways which ‘can provide significant financial benefits to farmers and society as a whole’, it said.

The declaration acknowledged that European agriculture is a ‘major source of nitrogen pollution, but at the same time nitrogen is a key element in food production’.

“The coherence between European agricultural policies and environmental policies could be improved to achieve a responsible and efficient use of nitrogen inputs,” it said.

The declaration acknowledged the need for further communication and education about the nitrogen problem to industry, farmers, retail, policy makers and society at large.

It stressed that there are a variety of options available to ‘substantially reduce our nitrogen-footprint’. These include technical and management measures to reduce polluting emissions from agriculture, industry and transport and personal choices on food consumption, transportation and energy use.

But it highlighted the need to find solutions that do not outweigh the cost of taking action to society.

The full text of the 23 point Edinburgh declaration can be found on the Conference website.

The European Nitrogen Assessment launch video can be viewed on youtube

The European Nitrogen Assessment is available to download from the Nitrogen in Europe (NinE) website

Readers' comments (1)

  • Food shortages soon then

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