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Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy

Partners in Crime

What do you know about the worldwide chemical fertilizer industry? If you’re like most people, not much. 

There’s plenty of press coverage and consumer awareness when it comes to genetically engineered food and crops, and the environmental hazards of pesticides and animal drugs. But the fertilizer industry? Not so much—even though it’s the largest segment of corporate agribusiness ($175 billion in annual sales), and a major destructive force in polluting the environment, disrupting the climate and damaging public health.

For instance, did you know that in 2010, Koch Industries was named “the world’s third-largest maker and marketer of nitrogen fertilizer,” according to the Wichita Eagle?  Koch, infamous for its support of extreme right-wing politicians and climate deniers, is part of a large system “of buying, leasing, upgrading and expanding fertilizer manufacturing, trading and distribution facilities worldwide.” Koch even has a separate fertilizer unit, called Koch Agronomics.

Did you know that two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply is contaminated at high levels with carcinogenic nitrates or nitrites, almost all from excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer? Some public wells have nitrogen at such a high level that it’s dangerous and even deadly for children to drink the tap water.

And what about this? According to ETC Group, synthetic fertilizers are a major contributor to climate-destroying greenhouse gases, and the estimated cost of environmental damage from reactive nitrogen emissions is between $70 billion and $320 billion in the European Union alone?

Whatever you know or don’t know about the chemical fertilizer industry, we bet you could have guessed this: Even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges the severe harm nitrogen fertilizer does to waterways, including to marine life and humans, the agency mostly turns its back. Instead of being forced to comply with permit regulations, private farming operations are allowed to “self-monitor.”  

We all know how well that works. 

Read the essay

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