A Hidden Threat to Our Food Supply

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A global food shortage could be closer than you might think, according to recent research.

That’s because phosphorus, an element that’s vital in the growth of plants and animals, could be depleted as early as 50 years from now, according to a study out of Linköping University in Sweden.

Phosphorus is a bit like crude oil in that it can’t be manufactured. But the impending phosphorus shortage could be more serious than an oil shortage, according to the study, which notes that there’s no adequate substitute for the element from phosphate rock, which takes 10 million to 15 million years to form.

On the other hand, while alternatives to fossil fuels aren’t as convenient or even widely available, they do exist.

Phosphorus, which humans, animals and plants need to live, comes mostly from phosphate rock, and it’s an element that’s nearly as important as oxygen is to animals and carbon dioxide is to plants since we need it to process the calories we consume.

According to the study, there’s little data on or governance of phosphorus resources, a situation that has to change in order to make sure that meat, vegetables, fruits and other plant-derived foods can still be produced in America and worldwide.

But we do know that the use of phosphorus in food production could stand to be more efficient. Only 20% of the phosphorus mined, most of which is used in food production, actually reaches our mouths, notes WalletPop. Waste can occur during mining and transport of the element, and it can be recovered from plant materials and human waste.

American consumers can do their own part in delaying or possibly even preventing a phosphorus shortage, however, according to the study. Having a balanced diet, keeping the environment healthy, producing as little garbage as possible and conserving energy are all moves that, if done collectively, could keep us from consuming more than necessary and preventing a waste of the vital element we all need to function.

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