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Trade-off in agriculture: Food production vs. pollution

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Trade-off in agriculture: Food production vs. pollution

Agriculture remains a major threat to water quality in Europe, according to the latest report by the European Union’s environmental agency. But farmers and EU policymakers also highlight the trade-off between conservation objectives and pressure to increase food production.
The European Environment Agency, in a new assessment, reports that 48% of streams and lakes in the EU will fail to meet good ecological status by 2015 as required by the 2000 Water Framework Directive. Excessive nutrients from fertilisers are a leading problem, with one consequence being the growth algae that chokes off oxygen to fish and plant life in lakes, streams and bays.
“Agricultural production is becoming increasingly intensive, with high input of fertilisers and pesticides, in turn resulting in significant loads of pollutants to the water environment through diffuse pollution,” the EEA says in the report.
But the fight against pollution runs head-on with concern about food security.
There is growing pressure, in Europe and internationally, for farmers to be more productive to address tighter food supplies, rising prices and a population forecast of 9 billion – from 7 billion today – by mid-century.
In this context, some experts say there has to be a mix of practices to both feed and protect a growing planet.
Ben Woodcock of the British National Environment Research Council advises farmers – and policymakers – to mix intensive farming with the development of buffer areas and natural habitats that can protect water bodies, improve soil quality and nurture wildlife work as pollinators and prey on pests;“The problem is it can’t go both ways. If you keep damaging crop land, if you keep reducing the overall area of semi-natural habitats, these ecosystem services will actually decline,” he told EurActiv.


Source: Euractiv