Agricultural Nutrient Run-off: “Like Death by 1,000 Cuts.”

There is a special sensation that comes from a long ride that passes green fields. Some of those fields produce grains for human consumption. Some produce grass used for grazing cows and sheep and horses. With heads down, these animals enjoy eating whatever happens to be growing at the time. Some of those animals produce milk. Some produce meat for consumption. All of those animals are there for a reason – and that reason is not simply to be viewed by passing travelers.

To achieve those plush fields of grasses and grains, farmers must use chemicals. Two very important chemicals are nitrogen and phosphorous. From an earlier article: Agricultural Runoff has Harsh Impact on Environment, the reality of these contaminants becomes clearer. When these are combined with the large volume of animal waste, there is usually a very toxic run-off that “depletes oxygen in streams and, with fecal bacteria, make waterways unfit for recreational use and harmful to aquatic life.

Even if there are no streams and rivers within proximity of farms, “bacteria can also quickly contaminate drinking water aquifers if it seeps in through fractures in the bedrock.” Unlike an industrial spill whose source can be easily identified, “nutrient runoff is in some ways harder to stop than industrial pollution because it’s difficult to trace its source.

There is no easy solution to this problem. As dietary habits continue to consume larger and larger quantities of animal protein,  protein demands rise and more and more animals are needed. As population rises, more and more food is needed.

From the Editorial: Coalition Urges Congress to Act on Nutrient Run-off, the severity of this toxic impact is even clearer.

“Across the nation, more than 50% of rivers, streams and lakes and nearly 60% of bays and estuaries are impaired because of nitrogen and phosphorous. In the US and around the world, water pollution from agriculture is costing billions of dollars per year, especially in developing countries. And, the problem is only going to grow in places like China and India…”

We must give priority to resolving these and the many other environmental pollutants or the water that we drink and the food we eat may cause great harm to our quality of life.

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