Farm pollution 'breaches drinking water limits'

Pollution of rivers, lakes and aquifers in farming areas in some of the world's leading economies breaches recommended limits for drinking water.

Nitrates and pesticides running off farmland are breaching recommended levels in some sites

Nitrates and pesticides running off farmland are breaching recommended levels in some sites

Researchers from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found excess levels of nitrates, phosphorous or pesticides in more than 10% of monitoring sites in 13 of its member countries.

Environmental Performance of Agriculture in OECD Countries since 1990 revealed that in a third of OECD countries, more than 30% of water taken from underground aquifers was used by farmers.

Although the amount of organic farmland has risen sharply since the early 1990s, the report shows it still accounts for less than 2% of total farmland in OECD countries.

The cost of treating water contaminated by agricultural pesticides and nutrients can run into many millions. In the UK alone, the cost is estimated at about Euro 345m a year.

The OECD said governments are making efforts to enhance the environmental performance of agriculture, but policies should break the link between farm support and production.

It said: "Much farm support still remains linked to production. This encourages a higher level of output but also greater use of inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers."

The report recommended a number of measures governments should also use to make agriculture more environmentally sound.

These included:

  • Provide direct payments for activities that benefit the environment, such as wildlife conservation
  • Enforcing regulations and taxes to prevent pollution
  • Improving information for farmers
  • Exploring solutions such as tradable permits and quotas for pollution from nutrients and greenhouse gases

  • The OECD is an organisation that brings together the governments of democratic countries from around the world to boost the international market economy.

    Kate Martin


    agriculture | pesticides


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