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The United Nations has placed Nitrogen pollution on a hit list of the top five new environmental crises facing the globe.
A move which has huge implications for New Zealand and intensive dairy farming in particular.
Greenpeace campaigner Gen Toop says “this new report should be all the Government needs to take action on the biggest nitrogen polluters in New Zealand – industrial dairying and synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.”
The UN’s Frontiers 2018/19: Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern report explores five of the most significant emerging issues on the environment.
It names nitrogen pollution “one of the most important issues facing humanity today” calling for “urgent action from nations around the world.”
The report highlights that the mass production of nitrogen-based fertilisers has transformed farming and is now causing “interference with the Earth’s nitrogen balance.”
Greenpeace is renewing calls for a ban on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and a radical transformation of the agricultural sector.
“So far this Government has sat on its hands and allowed the agricultural industry off the hook on every front – whether it’s river pollution, destruction of fragile landscapes like the Mackenzie or taking responsibility for their increasing climate emissions.”
Toop says global reports like this simply cannot be ignored.
“The entire farming sector must undergo far reaching and fundamental change and it needs to start now.”
The report compiles a chilling list of consequences from increasing nitrogen pollution, including freshwater pollution, algal blooms, oceanic dead zones, ozone depletion, soil degradation, death of wildlife and increasing nitrous oxide emissions.
Greenpeace says here in New Zealand evidence shows nitrate pollution in waterways and agricultural climate emissions both continue to worsen.
“In the last few decades in New Zealand synthetic nitrogen use has increased seven-fold and dairy cow numbers have doubled, ”says Toop.
”Too many cows and too much synthetic nitrogen fertiliser are killing our rivers, polluting the climate, degrading soils, pushing wildlife towards extinction and endangering human health.”
According to the Ministry for the Environment, the largest sources of nitrogen pollution into New Zealand’s rivers, in order of magnitude, are: urine from dairy cattle; urine from sheep: and synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.
As well as polluting the environment directly, synthetic nitrogen fertiliser has also caused the increase in nitrogen pollution from livestock urine by enabling higher stocking rates.
“The Government must completely ban synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, drastically reduce cow numbers and invest millions into regenerative farming,” says Toop.
Regenerative farming methods have been proven to produce the same amount of food, and retain farmer profitability without using any synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.