The United Nations recently issued a stern warning regarding the excessive use of nitrogen in agriculture: “[W]e are fertilizing the Earth on a global scale and in a largely uncontrolled experiment.” Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for crop production. Excess nitrogen, however, pollutes both surface water and groundwater and has serious health and environmental consequences. In response, the European Community (EC) and its Member States have enacted regulatory measures to reduce further pollution from nitrates used in agriculture. This Article analyzes the 1991 EC Nitrates Directive and its implementation, discussing agriculture in the EC, the use of nitrogen, and the harmful effects of excess nitrates. The Article also considers environmental law-making in the EC and traces the history of the EC’s treatment of nitrates from agriculture. The Article focuses on the nitrate situation in England, with emphasis on voluntary programs to control nitrates. Finally, the Article concludes with an analysis of the implementation of the Nitrates Directive in England and a discussion of an important 1999 European Court of Justice decision that interprets the Directive.
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