Towards resolving the phosphorus chaos created by food systems

Springer (part of Springer Nature)
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Ambio, 2020, 49, (5), pp. 1076-1089
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
© 2019, The Author(s). 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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