A new international study warns that nitrogen pollution from the livestock sector poses risks to human health and the environment, from water and air pollution to worsening the climate crisis.
The study, titled ‘Nitrogen emissions along global livestock supply chains‘ cautions that the safe ‘planetary boundary’ for nitrogen pollution has already been breached – one of nine boundaries that, if crossed, puts humanity’s future on Earth in danger.
Researchers found that the livestock sector emits one third of all human-induced nitrogen pollution, mainly from livestock effluent, synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use and the international transport of livestock commodities.
Greenpeace is urging New Zealand’s politicians to start listening to the science, and act on the threat to human and ecological health from intensive dairying and synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.
Greenpeace agriculture campaigner Gen Toop says, “Right now, scientists are saying that the livestock industry needs to change in order to protect our health, and the health of our planet.
“Nitrogen pollution from too many cows and too much synthetic fertiliser is worsening the climate crisis, contaminating our drinking water and destroying our rivers.”
New Zealand’s dairy herd has nearly doubled since 1990, and the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser has increased by 670% in that time. According to the Ministry for the Environment, that has led to more polluted waterways and increased greenhouse gas emissions. (1)
The report also stated that “In parts of the world, a reduction in the production and consumption of livestock products is probably necessary.” (2)
UBS investment bank predicts that the global plant-based food market will have a Compound Annual Growth Rate of over 30% up to 2025, and reach US$50 billion by 2025.
“There’s a lucrative and growing international market for plant-based foods, but New Zealand currently lacks the infrastructure to make the most of it,” says Toop.
“Any political party serious about tackling the climate crisis and cleaning up our rivers needs to commit to ending synthetic fertiliser use and invest in moving the country into more plant-based regenerative farming.”
(1) MfE 2020 – NZ Greenhouse Gas Inventory https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/climate-change/new-zealands-greenhouse-gas-inventory-1990-2018
MfE 2015: New Zealand’s Environmental reporting series : Environment Aotearoa 2015. https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/environmental-reporting/environment-aotearoa-2015
(2) Uwizeye, A., de Boer, I.J.M., Opio, C.I. et al. Nitrogen emissions along global livestock supply chains. Nat Food (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0113-y
Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is added to grass to make it grow faster. More grass means more cows – that means more climate and river pollution.