ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  12 November 2000


Thanks to Dr Jeremy Bartlett for this information about an important study by Pretty et al:

Recommended reading - an article about the true cost of intensive farming by Jules Pretty et. al. in August's edition of "Agricultural Systems" - available in .pdf format from the Elsevier website - (Abstract below.)

(It's not the easiest thing to find. If you go to, Elsevier's Agricultural Systems journal page, then search for "external costs" as the article title, it
should be the top of the list of results.)

The article is summarised in "Living Earth" (The magazine of the Soil Association), no. 208, Oct - Dec 2000, pp 4- 6.

The book "The Living Land" by Jules Pretty is available from the Soil Association by mail order for £12.99 + £1.50 p&p. Send a cheque or credit card details to SASS, Bristol House, 40 - 56 Victoria Street, Bristol, BS16BY or phone 0117 914 2446.
* * *
Here is the abstract of the article :

Agricultural Systems - Volume 65, Issue 2, 01-August-2000

Agricultural Systems Vol. 65 (2) pp. 113-136
Copyright (c) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd All rights reserved.

An assessment of the total external costs of UK agriculture

a J.N. Pretty
b C. Brett
c D. Gee
a R.E. Hine
d C.F. Mason
d J.I.L. Morison
e H. Raven
f M.D. Rayment
g G. van der Bijl

a Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex, , Colchester
CO435Q, UK
b Departments of Economics, University of Essex, UK
c European Environment Agency, Kongens Nytorv 6, DK-1050, Copenhagen,
d Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, UK
e Aratornish, Morvern, by Oban, Argyll, PA34 5UZ, UK
f Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Beds SG19
g Centre for Agriculture and the Environment (CLM), PO Box 10015, 3505 AA
Utrecht, The Netherlands

Received 16 February 2000; Revised 12 May 2000; Accepted 30 June 2000


This trans-disciplinary study assesses total external environmental and health costs of modern agriculture in the UK. A wide range of datasets have been analysed to assess cost distribution across sectors. We calculate the annual total external costs of UK agriculture in 1996 to be £2343 m (range for 1990--1996: £1149--3907 m), equivalent to £208/ha of arable and permanent pasture.

Significant costs arise from contamination of drinking water with pesticides (£120 m/year), nitrate (£16 m), Cryptosporidium (£23m) and phosphate and soil (£55 m), from damage to wildlife, habitats, hedgerows and drystone walls (£125 m), from emissions of gases (£1113 m), from soil erosion and organic carbon losses (£106 m), from food poisoning (£169 m), and from bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) (£607 m).

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 internalise 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.

Keyword(s): Externalities; Agriculture; Water pollution; Health; Pesticides; Biodiversity; Food poisoning; Policies

[abstract] | [Full text] (PDF 194 Kbytes)

© Copyright 1999-2000, Elsevier Science, All rights reserved
Jules Pretty's excellent 'Feeding the World?' article can be found at

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