Soil pollution is threatening global health

10 June 2021 | Muriel Cozier

Greater research is required to determine the extent of soil pollution.

A report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has concluded that worsening soil pollution and increasing waste, threaten the future of global food production, human health and the environment.

The Global Assessment of Soil Pollution found that worldwide; annual production of industrial chemicals had doubled to some 2.3 billion tonnes since the start of the 21st century, and is projected to increase by 85 percent by 2030. In the area of agriculture, the use of pesticides had increased by 75 percent between 2000 and 2017, with some 109 million tonnes of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers applied worldwide in 2018. The use of plastics in agriculture had also increased significantly in recent decades, with 708 000 tonnes of non-packaging plastic having been used in agriculture in the EU during 2019. The report also asserts that global waste, which stands at 2 billion tonnes annually, is set rise to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050 due to population growth and urbanisation.

With all this in mind, the report predicts that soil quality and environmental pollution will worsen unless there was a shift in production and consumption patterns and a stronger political commitment to support sustainable management and to fully respect nature.

The report also notes that greater research is required to determine the extent of soil pollution and  stresses that the proliferation of organic contaminants and others such a pharmaceuticals, antimicrobials, industrial chemicals, and plastics are of growing concern.

The report highlights that soil remediation is costly and complex, and  emphasizes the need to prevent the situation from worsening. UNEP and FAO are calling for the establishment of a Global Soil Pollution Information and Monitoring System, stronger legal frameworks and initiatives to foster technical cooperation in the drive to prevent pollution and increase soil remediation.

FAO Director-General QU Dongyu commented: ‘Our society wants more nutritious and safe foods, free of contaminants and pathogens. That is reflected in our work on how to transform our agri-food systems  for Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment and a Better Life, leaving no one behind.’

The FAO’s Global Soil Partnership will work with UNEP to implement the report’s recommendations.

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