Agriculture needs to be brought under environmental control

Current practices in US agriculture cannot be allowed to continue, says a senior fellow at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). He believes some states will act soon to control agricultural pollution.

Jason Clay cited statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) showing that more than half of the US’ arable land is “seriously degraded” and that for every bushel of production, six bushels of soil are eroded.

“We cannot allow agriculture to fall outside all the major legislation and regulation for non-point source pollution control,” says Clay, who told edie that “agriculture is the largest source of water pollution in the US, so why shouldn’t it be under environmental regulation.”

Although the US Environmental Protection Agency has made some moves to reduce water pollution from agricultural run-off (see related story in this section and story on US Government help for farmers), Clay believes that comprehensive control of agricultural discharges are necessary and that states like Oregon and Washington may take action earlier than others. Clay cites the fishing industries in the two states – both commercial and sport fishing – as a significant pressure on the state governments to control water pollution from agriculture.

Cities are also realising that the cost of building new water treatment infrastructure is often higher than the cost of reducing agricultural run-off upstream. Clay mentions St Louis, Missouri as one city that is having to invest huge amounts in water treatment infrastructure to remove nutrients of agricultural origin that enter the Mississippi upstream.

Clay was speaking at a conference on the links between biodiversity and business in London, organised by the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

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