Fertilizers Regulation: MEPs must strike the right balance on a realistic cadmium limit

Let’s focus on the man, not the ball, argues Jacob Hansen.

Jacob Hansen| Photo credit: Fertilizers Europe

By Jacob Hansen

29 May 2017

The European Parliament’s environment committee will vote on 30 May on the European Commission proposal for a new regulation on fertilizing products.

It is a key vote because it is going to determine the limit of cadmium in fertilizers, and since this question is closely linked to access of the critical raw material phosphate rock it profoundly affects European producers ability to produce and compete.

Representing the European producers, we at Fertilizers Europe are arguing for a realistic limit of not lower than 60 mg/kg. We urge MEPs to strike the right balance and not go for a sliding tackle from behind.


Cadmium in food is obviously a concern. Sources are many, including imported food and seafood. The link between cadmium in fertilizers and cadmium in food is there, but it is not very direct or necessarily strong.

And it has never been studied in a comprehensive risk assessment. The only science-based and peer reviewed report available today was prepared by Professor Erik Smolders at Leuven University.

Smolders concludes that an average of 75 mg/kg in Phosphate fertilizers would not lead to accumulation in soils, and be neutral for the environment. The Commission’s proposal sets an absolute limit, and not a limit based on averages. It follows from this that all fertilizers will in the future contain maximum 60 mg/kg, and the average will be considerably below this. And any average below 75 mg/kg will contribute to a depletion of cadmium in soils.

It is important to remember that all plants, animals and humans need sufficient amounts of phosphorus to survive. This is the reason why the Commission has labelled phosphate a critical raw material, and why access to a broad supply of phosphorus must be ensured.

"We at Fertilizers Europe are arguing for a realistic limit of not lower than 60 mg/kg. We urge MEPs to strike the right balance and not go for a sliding tackle from behind"

Access to phosphate rock is key to the survival of phosphate production in Europe, and Europe is almost completely dependent on imports. There are reserves of phosphate rock all over the world, but those reserves have different characteristics. As producer you need to have access to several sources in order to stay in business and deliver a competitive product that farmers can use to increase their yields and the quality of their crops. A product that does not question food safety.

MEPs must strike the right balance. I urge the members of the European Parliament who will vote on 30 May in the environment committee to rally behind the approach developed by the rapporteur Elisabetta Gardini of a unique limit of 60 mg.

This approach will contribute to an improvement of the environmental situation, while minimising potential concerns in terms of food safety and ensuring a competitive future for fertilizers’ manufacturers in Europe.

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