COW manure could be killing us, with children and the elderly the most at risk, according to an independent research group.
The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have said that tiny particles, which are produced from cow manure, can stick inside people’s lungs and cause a variety of health complications.
The particles, which are invisible to the naked eye, can cause cancer, heart disease and respiratory issues – particularly in children and elderly people.
In evidence provided to a Holyrood enquiry, the CEH said that farming, and in particular ammonia emissions, is also a significant source of air pollution in Scotland.
The CEH said that the issue must be “urgently addressed” and wants farmers to adopt greener practices to make the industry safer.
When nitrogen compounds from fertilisers and animal manure mix with polluted air, they form tiny solid particles that can stick inside people’s lungs.
More than 40,000 people have died prematurely every year in the UK due to air pollution, but although getting rid of diesel cars has been suggested as one solution, controlling agriculture pollution has not been fully explored.
The CEH submission to a Scottish parliament inquiry on air quality said that air pollution from agriculture must be “urgently addressed”.
They also suggested that Scotland should follow the lead of farmers in Holland and Denmark, where nitrogen pollution has been slashed, and that better farming practices would lead to “both substantial savings for farmers, as well as significant environmental and human health benefits”.
Dr Stefan Reis, one of the authors of CEH’s submission, said the Scottish government should introduce a better regulatory framework to line up with international efforts on tackling air pollution. He said: “There has been little appetite to try and significantly reduce ammonia emissions by regulating farming in any way.
“For a while now, Holland and Denmark have been pretty much accounting for every molecule of nitrogen…They have a better accounting and management system for nitrogen.
“One of the issues with ammonia is that applying more nitrogen fertiliser to a field doesn’t always help to grow more crops. It should be the right amount, at the right time, at the right place, in the right conditions.
“If you apply fertiliser or manure in the right way, with the right amount, you can limit the amount of emissions that go into the atmosphere and the environment.”
Reis added that spreading too much fertiliser actually costs farmers money. He said: “If you manage it better, you can both reduce environmental impact and decrease the amount of fertiliser being spread. You will have the same amount of farming output for less cost.”
Nourish Scotland, an environmental group based in Edinburgh, who focus on food, have suggested that emissions of ammonia in Scotland were estimated to be 35,000 tonnes in 2014 – with almost 90% of that coming from agriculture.
It claimed that over half the emissions come from cattle, adding that simple measures, such as covering stores of manure and slurry and using better spreading techniques, could help reduce the problem by 50%. They added that these are all “well known techniques with proven results” that could save nutrients and money, as well as reduce air pollution.
Nourish Scotland director, Pete Richie, said: “While the best farmers already follow the practice, many don’t.
“That’s why we are calling for a nitrogen budget in for Scotland, as in other countries with a large livestock industry such as Netherlands and Denmark.
“We are making great strides in reducing air pollution from other sources. Agriculture needs to step up to the plate and do its share of making the air we breathe cleaner.”
However, the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) said it’s members have a proud record of taking care of the environment.
Andrew Bauer, deputy policy director at NFUS, said: “Scotland’s farmers are leaders in Europe in tackling surface water to diffuse pollution – a fact that has been recognised by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Scottish government and the European Commission.
“Further, last year all large pig and poultry farms in Scotland passed their annual compliance assessment, which includes consideration of air quality.”