Nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers obtained from industrial agriculture invade the planet and endanger human health. This was prompted by a study by two Catalan researchers who recently warned that fertilizers in wheat crops could be behind celiac disease. Therefore, they want the implementation of another agricultural model and the reduction of livestock.
magazine Science Recently by researchers from the Center for Ecological and Forest Resources Research (CREAF) Josep Peñuelas and Jordi Sardans, the nutrient imbalance that the world is facing today due to human action. First of all, this situation, which is caused by intensive agriculture and excessive fertilization, has serious consequences for life.
According to Peñuelas and Sardans, ecosystems and species are Global nutrient imbalance caused by different nitrogen and phosphorus ratios on land and in water. These two elements are essential for life, and their proportions change under human influence.
Both nitrogen and phosphorus affect the growth rate of microorganisms, plants and animals. Plant species need CO2 to photosynthesize and nutrients to build their structures; Among these, the ratio of nitrogen and phosphorus is key. In addition, adequate amounts and proportions of nitrogen and phosphorus are required for optimal growth.
“Again, In recent years, humans have enriched the biosphere with nitrogen through over-fertilization. and therefore we changed its relationship with phosphorus,” the two researchers stated in a statement.
“The time has come for national and international environmental institutions and politically responsible individuals to recognize the risks posed by an imbalance between nitrogen and phosphorus to the biosphere and to humanity. International environmental agencies must address the issue through coordinated international policy,” confirms Josep Peñuelas.
Alternatives to imbalance
Among possible alternatives, experts suggest increasing efficiency in the use and cycling of nitrogen and phosphorus. precision agriculturewhich avoids applying disproportionate fertilizer.
They also advocate both management and enforcement methods. innovative biotechnologyIncreases the productivity of plants by capturing nutrients and utilizing phosphorus sources.
Other necessary policies pointed out by Peñuelas and Sardans are: promoting phosphorus recycling through regulations, subsidies or laws of national and regional scope, as well as reduce livestock production. Such solutions are at the initial stage of implementation.
“Humans are fertilizing the biosphere with excess nitrogen via the oxides of this compound emitted when burning fossil fuels; by planting nitrogen-fixing crops and additionally enriched fertilizers that filter into waterways” they explain.
Although there are also human activities – for example, applying fertilizers and detergents rich in this element – that increase the amount of phosphorus in soils and waters, the global increase in phosphorus availability in soils is still less than that. nitrogen.
In fact, these are two interrelated problems. On the one hand, the availability of nutrients in the soil has increased disproportionately, on the other hand, the balance between nitrogen and phosphorus has changed. When the medium contains too many nutrients, it becomes eutrophic: an increase in nutrients in freshwater causes an uncontrolled growth of algae and phytoplankton.until the ecosystem collapses.
Therefore, some countries have developed strategies to purify water aimed at reducing the concentration of both chemical compounds. However, the technology used by water treatment plants retains more phosphorus than nitrogen, further increasing the imbalance between the two nutrients.
The said stability
Worldwide imbalance between nitrogen and phosphorus may be even higher on a local and regional scale, because the contributions of both compounds are not evenly distributed worldwide. They also have a very different capacity to affect the environment: phosphorus, for example, is less soluble in water and is non-volatile, often absorbed and precipitated in the soil in mineral form and remains embedded in sediments. . Therefore, it tends to stay close to the emission source. In contrast, nitrogen is much more soluble in water and much more volatile, making it easier to diffuse over a larger radius from the emission source.
The biological effects of the increasing imbalance between the two nutrients have been observed in the structure and functions of living communities in the soil and in the species composition of plant communities in inland water bodies. As the imbalance continues to tilt in the same direction, the lack of stability will have an increasing effect.
The human phosphorus crisis
this food safety and agricultural production They are the ones most affected by this lack of balance, which directly affects natural ecosystems and people. Nitrogen-containing fertilizers have an unlimited source – the atmosphere – from which this nutrient can be extracted through the Haber-Bösh reaction.
This innovation, in addition to being used as a fertilizer since the 1950s, has allowed its production to increase continuously. However, phosphorus resources are largely limited to mines and concentrated in very few countries such as Morocco.
In this sense, Phosphorus may become economically unaffordable for low-income, food-scarce countriesThese resources are depleted or become unusable due to geopolitical and economic reasons.
In the future, phosphorus producing countries are likely to manage their reserves to maximize profits for their local mining and agricultural industries. Phosphorus-based fertilizers are becoming increasingly expensive for farmers in the poorest countries and worsening the imbalance between the two nutrients in areas where the problem is more pronounced. CREAF experts say this will be a crisis that will worsen the economic gap between rich and poor countries.
Phosphorus and Nitrogen Sick
The lack of balance between these two elements in the soil changes the chemical composition of the crops and can affect the health of the people who consume the products grown in these soils and therefore public health problem. For example, in areas with excessive use of inorganic and organic phosphorus fertilizers, phosphorus accumulates in the soil and water bodies.
Food produced in these environments can cause local people to overconsume phosphorus. negative effects on your health. Nutrient imbalance is also known to affect communicable and non-communicable human diseases that are strongly associated with diet, such as celiac disease. CREAF researchers had already warned that over-fertilizing wheat crops with nitrogen in 2021 could explain the high prevalence of celiac disease.
As if that wasn’t enough, CREAF researchers point out that when the relationship between nitrogen and phosphorus is disrupted, human activities create imbalances between other elements. For example, changes in the ratio of carbon to nitrogen relative to iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, among others, have been observed in plant tissues.
They say this indirectly leads them to see all elements of organisms, communities and ecosystems on planet earth as having their basic composition changed.
Reference work: ‘Global nitrogen-phosphorus imbalance’
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