Fertiliser Regulation

The new fertilizer regulation – consequences for farmers

The primary food production sector should meet the future policy changes, most importantly the new EU Fertilising Product Regulation functionality specifications beyond 2022. Despite the EU Circular Economy fertilizers regulation revision is in advanced stage, most farmers are not aware of the policy content, importance and significant consequences for farmers already in short term.

Gaps in the existing Fertiliser Regulation

The European Commission envisages a revision of the currently valid Fertiliser Regulation (EC No. 2003/2003) and expanding its scope to secondary raw material based, i.e. recovered and bio-based fertilising products. Existing EU rules on fertilisers cover mainly conventional mineral fertilisers, typically chemosynthetically extracted products. Regulation (EC) No 2003/2003 (hereinafter the Fertilisers Regulation) of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 October 2003 aims to ensure the free circulation on the internal market of "EC fertilisers" i.e. those conventional inorganic fertilisers that meet the requirements of the Regulation for their nutrient content, their safety, and the absence of adverse effects on the environment. Nearly half of the fertilisers on the EU market are not covered by the existing legislation. The existing EU rules do not affect the so-called ‘national fertilisers’ placed on the market of the Member States in accordance with national legislation. Some Member States have very detailed national rules whereas others do not. Producers can choose to market a fertiliser as "EC fertiliser" or as "national fertilisers".

There are increasing quantities of fertilising products are placed on the market in the EU that are not of inorganic origin, but are produced from organic waste streams, or are a combination of both, which are not covered by the existing EU Regulation. Other products relevant as inputs for agriculture, such as soil improvers and growing media, are also not within the scope of Regulation (EC) No 2003/2003, that is only regulating the mineral fertilizers and in current form is not applicable for recovered fertiliser products.

Fertiliser Regulation and environmental and health concerns

The Fertiliser Regulation (EC) No 2003/2003 focuses on the quality of the mineral fertilisers with regard to their nutrient content and on providing information to farmers about the nutrient content of fertilisers. Focus has now moved more and more to environmental and material safety concerns (e.g. presence of toxic elements - metals and metalloids) in inorganic fertilisers. It is recognised that the current provisions of the Fertilisers Regulation do not offer a clear framework to address these new concerns. Cadmium, Uranium and other potential toxic elements are constituents of phosphorites, meaning mined mineral phosphate fertilizers contain potential toxic elements in relation to the original deposit. Contaminants in EU fertilising products, such as cadmium, could pose a risk to human, animal or plant health, to safety or to the environment as they accumulate in the environment and enter the food chain.

There is a need for new harmonized Fertiliser Regulation

There is a growing interest from the market and the farming sector for organic and low input fertilisers, organo-mineral fertilisers, growing media, soil improvers, agronomic fertiliser additives and plant biostimulants, for which currently no EU legislation exists. On the other hand an increasing number of Member States takes (divergent) national actions for these growing fertiliser sub-sectors. This creates barriers to trade which can only be addressed by action at EU level. To remove barriers also new Mutual Recognition Regulation EC 2019/515 formed, that will enter in force by April 19, 2020 and replacing the old EC 764/2008.

The key elements of the new rules are:

  • Opening the Single Market for bio-based fertilisers: The agreement on the Fertilising Products Regulation will open the market for new and innovative organic fertilisers by defining the conditions under which these can access the EU Single Market.
  • Rules on safety and quality: The new Regulation will provide strict 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.
  • EU fertilising products divided into different product function categories (PFC), which should each be subject to specific safety and quality requirements.
  • Component materials for EU fertilising products divided into different categories, which should each be subject to specific process requirements and control mechanisms. It should be possible to make available on the market an EU fertilising product composed of several component materials from various component material categories, where each material complies with the requirements of the category to which the material belongs.
  • Introducing limit values for contaminants in fertilisers: including a new 60 mg/kg limit for cadmium in mineral phosphorus fertilisers which will be further reviewed four years after the date of application. For organic fertilisers the cadmium limit value is 1.5 mg/kg. This will guarantee a high level of soil protection and reduce health and environmental risks, while allowing producers to adapt their manufacturing process to comply with the new limits. Producers will also be able to use a low-cadmium label applicable to products with less than 20mg/kg cadmium content. Maximum Cadmium limit of 1.5 mg/kg to apply in organic fertiliser and other biofertiliser cases.

The current status

The new EU Fertilising Products Regulation was approved at the meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, 27 March 2019, expected to enter in force by the end of 2019 and mandatory implemented from 2022. It is now subject to approval by the EU Council without amendment, and then it will be published. Regulation (EC) 2003/2003 relating to fertilisers will be repealed three years after the entry into force of this new EU Fertilising Products Regulation.

Advantages of new regulations:

  • Making it easier for producers of organic and recovered fertilisers to sell with harmonized quality standards for all types of fertilizing material that can be traded across the European Union.
  • More choice for farmers, reduced health and environmental risks for consumers.
  • Maximum Cadmium limit of 1.5 mg/kg to apply in organic fertiliser and other bio-fertiliser cases.
  • Maximum Cadmium limit of 60mg/kg to apply in mineral fertiliser cases and where an organo-mineral fertiliser has a cadmium content equal to or lower than 20 mg/kg the statement “Low cadmium content" may be added.
  • Boosting the use of organic and bio/waste-based 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.
  • Increasing the consumer's  confidence by guaranteeing the safety of fertilisers with regard to human health and the environment (in particular concerning the toxic elements, organic contaminants).
  • Full harmonisation of the internal market would remove all costs related to mutual recognition and/or divergence of national rules, as well as ensure a uniform level of protection of human health and environment.