Towards resolving the phosphorus chaos created by food systems

Withers, Paul J. A. and Forber, Kirsty G. and Lyon, Christopher and Rothwell, Shane and Doody, Donnacha G. and Jarvie, Helen P. and Martin-Ortega, Julia and Jacobs, Brent and Cordell, Dana and Patton, Myles and Camargo-Valero, Miller A. and Cassidy, Rachel (2020) Towards resolving the phosphorus chaos created by food systems. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 49 (5). pp. 1076-1089. ISSN 1654-7209

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The chaotic distribution and dispersal of phosphorus (P) used in food systems (defined here as disorderly disruptions to the P cycle) is harming our environment beyond acceptable limits. An analysis of P stores and flows across Europe in 2005 showed that high fertiliser P inputs relative to productive outputs was driving low system P efficiency (38 % overall). Regional P imbalance (P surplus) and system P losses were highly correlated to total system P inputs and animal densities, causing unnecessary P accumulation in soils and rivers. Reducing regional P surpluses to zero increased system P efficiency (+ 16 %) and decreased total P losses by 35 %, but required a reduction in system P inputs of ca. 40 %, largely as fertiliser. We discuss transdisciplinary and transformative solutions that tackle the P chaos by collective stakeholder actions across the entire food value chain. Lowering system P demand and better regional governance of P resources appear necessary for more efficient and sustainable food systems.

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Journal Article
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AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment
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22 Oct 2019 13:25
Last Modified:
17 Sep 2023 02:42