UN report warns of rising nitrogen emissions from meat and dairy production

Yvonne O'Halloran

A new study has revealed that global livestock supply chains have added significantly to rising levels of nitrogen in the atmosphere, threatening human and environmental health.

Scientists from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) conducted the study, which found that livestock farming accounts for approximately one-third of human-induced nitrogen emissions globally.

The study also found that the sector is currently responsible for 65 trillion grams (teragrams) of nitrogen emissions annually. The UN has warned that these emissions already reach the planetary ‘boundary’ for nitrogen.

Results show that the majority of these emissions are associated with feed production, manure management systems, and synthetic nitrogen-based fertilisers.

Nitrogen pollution is a challenging environmental problem and contributes to climate change. The greenhouse gas nitrous oxide is over 300 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Additionally, nitrogen emissions damage human health, having been linked to respiratory problems and certain cancers.

The report was published in Nature Food, stating: “Given the magnitude of its impacts and its central role in both domestic and international nitrogen challenges, the livestock sector urgently requires a global initiative to tackle nitrogen pollution while supporting food security.”

“In parts of the world, a reduction in the production and consumption of livestock products is probably necessary to keep global nitrogen emissions within planetary boundaries.”

As a significant contributor to the declining health of the environment, urgent changes to the sector are needed to protect the planet. Reducing the consumption of meat and dairy is a small change which could have a big impact.

Article by Martha Moody- United Kingdom

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