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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Environmental Issues

The Phosphorus Footprint of China's Food Chain: Implications for Food Security, Natural Resource Management, and Environmental Quality


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 40 No. 4, p. 1081-1089
    Received: Oct 11, 2010

    * Corresponding author(s): zhangfs@cau.edu.cn
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  1. F. Wanga,
  2. J. T. Simsb,
  3. L. Maa,
  4. W. Mac,
  5. Z. Doud and
  6. F. Zhang *a
  1. a Key Lab. of Plant–Soil Interactions, MOE, College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, China Agricultural Univ., Beijing, 100193, China
    b College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Univ. of Delaware, 116 Townsend Hall, Newark, DE 19716
    c College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Univ. of Hebei, Baoding, 071001, China
    d Section of Animal Production Systems, School of Veterinary Medicine, Univ. of Pennsylvania, 382 W. Street Rd., Kennett Square, PA 19348. Assigned to Associate Editor Phil Haygarth


Efficient use of phosphorus (P) for producing food, preventing water pollution, and managing a dwindling rock P reserve are major challenges for China. We analyzed P stocks and flows in the Chinese food chain to identify where P use efficiency can be improved, where P leaks to the environment, and the research, technologies, and policies needed to improve P use. We found a high degree of inefficiency; of 6652 Gg P entering the food chain, only 1102 Gg P (18%) exit as food for humans. The greatest inefficiencies were a large build-up of soil P (3670 Gg P yr−1; 52% of P inputs) and high P losses to the environment from animal production (1582 Gg P yr−1; 60% of excreted P). Improving P use in China must focus on national-scale nutrient management strategies, better animal nutrition, and adoption of technologies and policies to reduce P discharges from the animal sector and recycle P as manures in agriculture.

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