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The surprisingly small but increasing role of international agricultural trade on the European Union’s dependence on mineral phosphorus fertiliser
Bordeaux Sciences Agro, Univ. Bordeaux, UMR 1391 ISPA, F-33175 Gradignan Cedex, France / INRA, UMR 1391 ISPA, F-33882 Villenave d'Ornon Cedex, France / McGill School of Environment, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, Sainte Anne de Bellevue, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, Sainte Anne de Bellevue, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8081-2126
McGill School of Environment, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada / Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, Sainte Anne de Bellevue, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
2016 (English)In: Environmental Research Letters, ISSN 1748-9326, E-ISSN 1748-9326, Vol. 11, article id 025003Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Phosphorus (P) is subject to global management challenges due to its importance to both food security and water quality. The European Union (EU) has promoted policies to limit fertiliser over-application and protect water quality for more than 20 years, helping to reduce European P use. Over this time period, the EU has, however, become more reliant on imported agricultural products. These imported products require fertiliser to be used in distant countries to grow crops that will ultimately feed European people and livestock. As such, these imports represent a displacement of European P demand, possibly allowing Europe to decrease its apparent P footprint by moving P use to locations outside the EU. We investigated the effect of EU imports on the European P fertiliser footprint to better understand whether the EU's decrease in fertiliser use over time resulted from P demand being 'outsourced' to other countries or whether it truly represented a decline in P demand. To do this, we quantified the 'virtual P flow' defined as the amount of mineral P fertiliser applied to agricultural soils in non-EU countries to support agricultural product imports to the EU. We found that the EU imported a virtual P flow of 0.55 Tg P/yr in 1995 that, surprisingly, decreased to 0.50 Tg P/yr in 2009. These results were contrary to our hypothesis that trade increases would be used to help the EU reduce its domestic P fertiliser use by outsourcing its P footprint abroad. Still, the contribution of virtual P flows to the total P footprint of the EU has increased by 40% from 1995 to 2009 due to a dramatic decrease in domestic P fertiliser use in Europe: in 1995, virtual P was equivalent to 32% of the P used as fertiliser domestically to support domestic consumption but jumped to 53% in 2009. Soybean and palm tree products from South America and South East Asia contributed most to the virtual P flow. These results demonstrate that, although policies in the EU have successfully decreased the domestic dependence on mineral P fertiliser, in order to continue to limit global potential mineral P supply depletion and consequences of P losses to waterways the EU may have to think about its trading partners.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Institute of Physics (IOP), 2016. Vol. 11, article id 025003
National Category
Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-151246DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/2/025003OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-151246DiVA, id: diva2:1248114
Available from: 2018-09-13 Created: 2018-09-13 Last updated: 2018-10-05Bibliographically approved

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Metson, Genevieve

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