“It is an acceptable compromise for our industry but several challenges remain.”
Negotiators from the European Parliament, European Council and European Commission have reached an agreement on new rules to promote bio-based fertilisers. The new rules, which revamps the EU’s Fertilising Products Regulation, will facilitate the access of organic and waste-based fertilisers to the EU single market. The rules also introduce limits for cadmium and other contaminants in phosphate fertilisers. According to the EU lawmakers, this will help to reduce waste, energy consumption and environmental damage, as well as limit the risks to human health.
The rubber stamping of the new rules never seemed to be in doubt as EU lawmakers made a provisional agreement on the new rules in November.
“Unlike traditional fertilisers which are highly energy intensive and rely on scarce natural resources, bio-waste fertilisers have the potential to make farming more sustainable,” Jyrki Katainen (@jyrkikatainen), Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, said. “These new rules will also help to create a new market for reused raw materials in line with our efforts to build a circular economy in Europe.”
Elżbieta Bieńkowska (@EBienkowskaEU), Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, added: "The new EU rules will open up new market opportunities for innovative companies producing organic fertilisers and create new local jobs, provide wider choice for our farmers and protect our soils and food. At the same time, we are also making sure that our European industry will be able to adapt to the proposed changes."
The regulation also aims to provide common rules on safety, quality and labelling requirements for all fertilisers to be traded freely across the EU. Producers will need to demonstrate that their products meet those requirements before affixing the CE mark.
For the first time, the regulation will introduce limits for toxic contaminants, including a new 60mg/kg limit for cadmium which will be further reviewed four years after the date of application.
The overall aim of the new rules is to build on the Commission’s 2015 circular economy action plan. Mineral-based fertilisers depends on the import of phosphate rock, a limited resource.
Reaction to new rules
Wieland Reichelt, CEO at Austria-based biostimulant technology company Evologic Technologies, told Bio-Based World News that the new rules sounded “promising” and was going in “right direction”, overall. He also said a single market was a great motivator for the industry.
He added: “Harmonised regulations will definitely catalyse the adoption of organic fertilisers. Overall, I truly doubt that the motivation for the circular economy approach in the case of fertiliser should be the cost of inorganic fertiliser….”
He went on: “The cost of phosphate fertiliser has dropped steeply since new mines have been opened. But solving the question of – what to do with waste streams (manure/ sewage sludge) is a critical question since it endangers our groundwater resources.
“Personally, I am still wondering if the high-water content and the high amounts of organic molecules in manure truly dedicates it as fertiliser. Using this waste stream for either biogas or protein production would generate greatly more value. Nevertheless, biogas/protein production generates waste streams which can still be used as fertiliser (without even decreasing the mineral content). Also, the exact definition of toxic contaminants will be really critical. While phosphate rock-based fertiliser is often contaminated with heavy metals, manure or sewage sludge can contain significant amounts of un-metabolised antibiotics.”
A spokesman from trade body Fertilizers Europe @FertilizersEuro told Bio-Based World News that the organisation broadly welcomed the EU agreement on its new Fertilisers Regulation.
He said: “It is an acceptable compromise for our industry but several challenges remain. More specifically, we welcome the inclusion of industry by-products in the scope of the regulation without creating disproportionate bureaucracy for the placing of mineral fertilisers on the single market. The original proposal was not allowing us to continue to be the leading sector of industrial symbiosis and recycling in Europe therefore we are glad to see that EU institutions came up with a solution to this key issue for our industry.
“A limit of 60 mg/kg P2O5 on the cadmium content in phosphorus fertilisers will be set, and will be implemented immediately after the application of the Regulation. The immediate implementation of this limit creates a challenge for the European phosphate industry. We opted for the limit to take effect only after an appropriate transition period allowing EU producers to adapt their sourcing practices and their production processes.
“Finally, we do regret that the opening of the Regulation to all kinds of fertilising products has been used by the EU lawmakers as an occasion to decrease the quality and nutrient levels of mineral fertilisers. The minimum nutrient levels set by this regulation are very low and this is a drawback for European agriculture as EU farmers rely on efficient mineral fertilisers to boost their yields and the quality of their crops.”
The new law is now subject to formal approval by the Parliament and Council. The Fertilisers Regulation will then be directly applicable in all member states and will become mandatory in 2022.