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An assessment of the total external costs of UK agriculture



An assessment of the total external costs of UK agriculture



Agricultural systems 65(2): 113-136



This trans-disciplinary study assesses total external environmental and health costs of modern agriculture in the UK. A wide range of datasets have been analyzed to assess cost distribution across sectors. We calculate the annual total external costs of UK agriculture in 1996 to be 2343 pounds m (range for 1990-1996: 1149-3907 pounds m), equivalent to 208 pounds/ha of arable and permanent pasture. Significant costs arise from contamination of drinking water with pesticides (210 pounds m/year), nitrate (16 pounds m), Cryptosporidium (23 pounds m) and phosphate and soil (55 pounds m), from damage to wildlife, habitats, hedgerows and drystone walls (125 pounds m), from emissions of gases (1113 pounds m), from soil erosion and organic carbon losses (106 pounds m) from food poisoning (169 pounds m), and from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) (607 pounds meter). This study has only estimated those externalities that give rise to financial costs, and so is likely to underestimate the total negative impacts of modern agriculture. These data help to identify policy priorities, particularly over the most efficient way to internalize these external costs into prices. This would imply a redirection of public subsidies towards encouraging those positive externalities under-provided in the market place, combined with a mix of advisory and institutional mechanisms, regulatory and legal measures, and economic instruments to correct negative externalities. Further work examining the marginal costs and benefits of UK agriculture would help to inform future policy development.

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Accession: 003356749

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DOI: 10.1016/s0308-521x(00)00031-7



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