Fertilizers Regulation: Introducing lower cadmium limits could weaken EU

The EU is sleep walking into a security, geopolitical and trade crisis, warns Tomasz Włostowski.

Tomasz Wlostowski | Photo credit: Alliance Européenne des Engrais Phosphatés

By Tomasz Wlostowski

29 May 2017

Fertilizers mean food. Fertilizer production means food security. Where most countries treat phosphate as a strategic resource, the EU introduces radical cadmium (Cd) limits that will destroy EU phosphate fertilizer production and make us primarily dependent on imports from three Russian companies.

Over 60 per cent of EU mineral phosphate demand is met by imports. Low Cd limits benefit Russia, the only major exporter of low Cd fertilizers to EU. No wonder their lobbying - unfortunately with DG GROW 's support - is so intense.

However, once they achieve control over EU food security, with geopolitical tensions and sanctions in the background, can the EU count on this supply at a time of need? Limits also pose major challenges for developing countries in North Africa. As terrorism and migration top Europe's agenda, can we deprive Tunisia of phosphate revenues, accounting for 10 per cent of their exports?


The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Cadmium must be reduced in fertilizers to reduce cadmium in food. An appealing prospect, but the link is so weak, that no one - including the Commission - knows what, if any, reduction of Cd in food a low limit would achieve. 

DG GROW's Carlo Pettinelli, asked in the European Parliament to identify the level of Cd reduction in food a low limits would secure said, "This is something that we don't have the information now, because we need to make a study." 

A meaningful reduction of Cd in our food is worth a high price. However, should we devastate an EU industry, without knowing the benefit?

The EU's own health and environment watchdog stated in 2015 that Cd levels in EU soils are falling. Scientific studies show that an average Cd content below 80 mg will cause Cd reductions in soils. A maximum limit of 80 mg will deliver much lower averages and will therefore will accelerate this reduction.

Cd limits below 80 mg will lead to a major phosphorus shortage. There is no real substitution for mineral phosphate fertilizers for now.

Decadmiation - an elusive technology to remove Cadmium from phosphate rock, on which millions have already been spent - is not available at an industrial scale and would not even be applicable to 30 per cent of the products on the market.

A shortage of phosphorous will hike fertilizer prices, hitting EU farmers, that - importantly - seek a 15 year moratorium until new limits are introduced. 

It is telling that Europe's major agricultural producers and/or their industries - Bulgaria, France, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and UK - support a limit of 80 mg, which is clear the level that will achieve a reduction of Cd in soils and avoid massive disruption to the market while maintaining food independence. 

Voting for a lower limit - although well-intentioned - will strategically weaken the EU's agriculture, trade and geopolitical position.