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EU Council and Parliament negotiators reach provisional deal on fertilisers

New rules easing access to the EU single market for fertilisers made from organic or recycled materials and setting limits for cadmium were agreed on November 20.
"I am pleased that today we finally reached a very good agreement after long negotiations, technical meetings and a huge amount of work that has been done with four Presidencies of the Council in the past two years," said Internal Market Committee rapporteur, Mihai Ţurcanu (EPP, RO).

Different national rules make it difficult for producers of organic fertilisers, such as digestate from biogas plants, to sell and use them across the EU single market. The new legislation, provisionally agreed by the EU Council and Parliament on November 20, 2018 and which will replace the current 2003 Fertilisers Regulation, includes all fertiliser types.

Environment Committee rapporteur, Elisabetta Gardini (EPP, IT), added that it was “an excellent result” for small- and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

The new rules include reasonable limits for contaminants and, finally, access to the market for all those products that were excluded before. A single, harmonised limit is finally in place at European level for all contaminants, especially for cadmium, which is the one that most worries the member states. Since this is very sensitive, the cadmium limit established by the regulation can be reviewed after seven years from its entry into force, she said.

Cadmium limits

The agreed text introduces limits for heavy metals, such as cadmium, in phosphate fertilisers to reduce health and environmental risks. The limits for cadmium content in “CE marked” phosphate fertilisers will be 60 mg/kg as from the date of application of the regulation – three years after its entry into force.

A review clause requires the European Commission to review the limit values, with a view to assessing the feasibility of reducing them, four years after the date of application of the new rules – seven years after entry into force.

The co-legislators also agreed on a voluntary “low cadmium” label. Where the fertilising product has a cadmium content lower than 20 mg/kg, the statement “Low cadmium (Cd) content” or similar, or a visual representation to that effect, may be added.

Sufficient incentives should be provided to develop decadmiation technologies and to manage cadmium-rich hazardous waste by means of relevant financial resources, the lawmakers added.

Boosting the use of organic and waste-based fertilisers

The EU imports more than 6 million tonnes of phosphate rock a year, but it could recover up to 2 million tonnes of phosphorus from sewage sludge, biodegradable waste, meat and bone meal or manure, according to the Commission.

Currently, only 5 percent of waste organic material is recycled and used as fertilisers. According to estimates, if more biowaste was recycled, it could replace up to 30 percent of non-organic fertilisers.

Nearly half of the fertilisers on the EU market are not covered by the existing legislation. Existing EU rules on fertilisers cover mainly conventional fertilisers, typically extracted from mines or produced chemically, with high energy-consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Diverging national rules make it difficult for producers of organic fertilisers to sell and use them across the EU single market. The new legislation, provisionally agreed on November 20 and which will replace the current 2003 Fertilisers Regulation, includes all types of fertilisers:

  • promotes increased use of recycled materials for producing fertilisers, thus helping to develop the circular economy, while reducing dependence on imported nutrients,
  • eases market access for innovative, organic fertilisers, which would give farmers and consumers a wider choice and promote green innovation,
  • establishes EU-wide quality, safety and environmental criteria for “EU” fertilisers – those which can be traded in the whole EU single market.

Next steps

The provisional agreement still needs to be confirmed by the EU member states’ ambassadors (Coreper) and by Parliament’s Internal Market Committee. The draft regulation will then be put to a vote by the full Parliament in an upcoming plenary session and formally approved by the EU Council of Ministers.

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