A peer-reviewed paper published on April 12th in Science demonstrates the extent
of environmental harm from agriculture as practiced over the past few
decades. Use of nitrogen fertilizer has risen dramatically, and half of all the
fertilizer that has ever been used on Earth has been applied in the last 15
years, leading to massive pollution of coastal waters. Agricultural nitrogen
fertilizers that run off into coastal areas squeeze oxygen from the water,
leaving behind “dead zones” devoid of most life forms.
Polluted agricultural runoff from farms in the upper Midwest contributes to a
dead zone the size of New Jersey located in the Gulf of Mexico off the
Mississippi River. Coastal waters and two-thirds of the nation’s rivers and
bays are degraded from nutrient pollution, much of it coming from farms.
“Coastal waters are being decimated by pollution from nitrogen fertilizer,” said
Environmental Defense senior scientist Bob Howarth, one of the authors of
the Science paper. “Fisheries, coastal ecosystems and the recreational and
commercial industries that depend upon them are being hit hard by fertilizer
overuse. If trends of the past 35 years continue, nitrogen fertilizer use will
more than double globally by 2050.”
A letter signed by 128 of the nation’s leading environmental scientists to
Congressional leaders will be released today in coordination with publication
of the Science paper. The letter calls for Congress to provide authorization
funding for a plan to reduce nitrogen flux in the Mississippi basin by 30% in
15 years. All of the governors of the states in the upper Mississippi basin have
signed the Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force Action Plan, but
federal assistance is necessary for the plan to succeed. The letter and a list of
its signatories can be found at www.environmentaldefense.org/deadzone.
“Congress must step forward and make the investments needed to foster an
environmentally sustainable green revolution, which will make U.S. coastal
and agricultural areas stronger, safer and more productive,” said Howarth.
“They should support the Midwestern governors and provide funding for the
Task Force nitrogen reduction plan. Congress should also revise the Farm Bill
and help farmers make the transition to more environmentally benign
agriculture practices. Planting winter cover crops and using somewhat less
fertilizer, combined with full Congressional funding of wetlands restoration and
preservation, are important and practical steps toward restoring the economic
and environmental health of America’s coastal waters. Solutions are easily
available that help preserve the oceans without harming crop production.”
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