Phosphorus (P) is a critical factor for food production, yet surface freshwaters and some coastal waters are highly sensitive to eutrophication by excess P. A planetary boundary, or upper tolerable limit, for P discharge to the oceans is thought to be ten times the pre-industrial rate, or more than three times the current rate. However this boundary does not take account of freshwater eutrophication. We analyzed the global P cycle to estimate planetary boundaries for freshwater eutrophication. Planetary boundaries were computed for the input of P to freshwaters, the input of P to terrestrial soil, and the mass of P in soil. Each boundary was computed for two water quality targets, 24 mg P m - 3, a typical target for lakes and reservoirs, and 160 mg m - 3, the approximate pre-industrial P concentration in the world's rivers. Planetary boundaries were also computed using three published estimates of current P flow to the sea. Current conditions exceed all planetary boundaries for P. Substantial differences between current conditions and planetary boundaries demonstrate the contrast between large amounts of P needed for food production and the high sensitivity of freshwaters to pollution by P runoff. At the same time, some regions of the world are P-deficient, and there are some indications that a global P shortage is possible in coming decades. More efficient recycling and retention of P within agricultural ecosystems could maintain or increase food production while reducing P pollution and improving water quality. Spatial heterogeneity in the global P cycle suggests that recycling of P in regions of excess and transfer of P to regions of deficiency could mitigate eutrophication, increase agricultural yield, and delay or avoid global P shortage.