Fluoride Action Network


Fertilizers are indispensable for ensuring sustainability of agricultural production, thereby achieving food and fiber security. Nitrogen, sulfur, and potassium fertilizers are relatively free of impurities, but phosphorus (P) fertilizers, the main fertilizer input for the economic production of legume-based pastures, contain several contaminants, of which F and Cd are considered to be of most concern because they have potentially harmful effects on soil quality, livestock health, and food safety. Incidences of fluorosis in grazing livestock, and accumulation of Cd in the edible offal products of livestock, above the maximum permissible concentration set by food authorities have been reported in many countries. The majority of Cd and F applied to pastures in many countries continues to accumulate in the biologically active topsoil due to strong adsorption to soil constituents. However, the rate of Cd accumulation in the last decade has slowed as a result of selective use of low-Cd fertilizers. Cd and F adsorption in soils increase with increased contents of iron and aluminium oxides, layer silicates and allophane in soils, and increased soil pH. Cadmium adsorption also increases with increased Mn oxides and organic matter in soil. However, some Cd will be released during decomposition of plant and animal remains and organic matter. In most pastoral soils the majority of Cd and F added in fertilizers remains in the topsoil and little moves below 20-30 cm, and therefore these are unlikely to contaminate groundwater. However, F may pose a risk to shallow groundwater in very acidic low-P-fixing soils, and Cd may pose a risk in very acidic soils containing low organic matter and clay contents, or in soils with high chloride concentrations. Research is required both to test whether groundwater beneath farms with long histories of P fertilizer use is contaminated by these elements and also to examine their mechanisms of movement. Cd intake by grazing livestock occurs mostly by ingestion of pasture, and therefore measures to decrease plant availability of Cd in soils (e.g., maintaining high organic matter, reducing soil acidity and salinity, alleviating zinc deficiency, reducing weed) can reduce Cd accumulation in livestock. F intake by grazing livestock is mostly by soil ingestion; therefore, reducing soil ingestion by maintaining good pasture cover especially during winter periods can reduce F accumulation in livestock. In grazing livestock, Cd accumulates in kidney and liver, whereas F accumulates mainly in bones. Very little research has been carried out to study the effects of sustained but low levels of Cd and F additions on soil microbial activity, especially on the economically important N-fixers in symbiosis with pasture legumes and mycorrhizae. This subject also needs to be researched. The impact of F accumulation in bones of animals as influenced by the alternative low and high soil F intake between seasons and the effect of increasing age of animals needs further study to more accurately determine the potential risk of fluorosis and elucidate potential solutions to minimize F accumulation in bones and teeth of aged breeding stock. Computer-based models are required to identify farming systems that present a high risk of Cd concentrations in edible offal exceeding the MPC and livestock at risk of chronic fluorosis. A decision support model of this kind may be useful in developing management strategies capable of reducing Cd and F accumulation in animals. Preliminary empirical models have been developed for Cd (Loganathan et al. 1999) and F (Bretherton et al. 2002) accumulation in sheep grazing New Zealand pastures. Further development of these models is required for their wider applicability.