War, pandemic behind phosphorous loss

·1-min read

The raging war in Ukraine and the ongoing pandemic have critically hit global supplies of phosphorous, an essential resource in producing food, which can affect Australia's ability to feed its citizens, a new study has found.

Phosphorus is extracted from non-renewable phosphate rock reserves for use in crop fertilisers, livestock feeds and food additives.

Global phosphate prices have spiked 400 per cent since early 2020 due to supply chain disruptions, export bans and sanctions.

With Australia being one of the world's top phosphate importers for food production, the repercussions will be felt soon according to UTS scientist Dana Cordell, a lead author of the report.

Two-thirds of the country's phosphorus use is for livestock production.

The Our Phosphorus Future report, with contributions from 40 scientists, warns the decisions of a handful of phosphate-producing countries including China and Russia can have far-reaching consequences.

"Phosphorus needs to be on the national agenda. It is an issue of national security and food security," Dr Cordell said.

"There are so many actions we can, and need, to take now to ensure access to sustainable phosphorus sources to grow our food from investing in local renewable fertiliser markets ... to eating more plant-based diets with a lower carbon and phosphorus footprint".

She also noted how pollution is an unfortunate by-product of phosphate production that could threaten Australian ecosystems.

"Vast amounts of phosphorus and other nutrients are ending up in our waterways, with potentially toxic effects, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Hawkesbury-Nepean rivers".

"The benefits of investing in sustainable phosphorus strategies will be enormous to our farmers, our economy and our environment. But the cost of inaction will be devastating," she said.

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