In August, the Sustainable Food Trust submitted a response to the Government’s new Clean Air Strategy consultation. Air pollution is a huge issue in the UK with more than 40 towns and cities at, or exceeding, air pollution limits set by the World Health Organization. This has significant public health impacts, since an estimated 40,000 premature deaths in the UK are attributed to air pollution.

It has long been known that poor air quality damages public health, but recent research would suggest that the impact has been vastly underestimated. A recent study from Queen Mary University of London reported that air pollution can actually change the structure of the heart, increasing the left and right ventricles.

Attention has focused on urban areas and vehicle emissions. As a result of government action on car exhausts and industry, UK emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by approximately 70% in the last two decades. However, the impact of farming on air quality has been largely overlooked. In the UK, farming accounts for approximately 80% of all ammonia emissions, primarily from artificial nitrogen-based fertilisers. When ammonia drifts over industrial regions, it combines with other pollutants to form solid microscopic particles that can stick in fine lung tissue, contributing to cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

While overdue, we welcomed the Government’s new Clean Air Strategy. It is a positive first step, but more will need to be done if we want to reverse the environmental and public health damage caused by decades of bad practice. Greater action to address the root causes of air pollution from the agricultural sector is needed. To face the growing environmental crisis caused by nitrogen pollution, that is already exceeding Planetary Boundaries, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that we produce food.

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