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Adopted on 5 June 2019, regulation 2019/1009 will come into force on 16 July 2022 in all countries of the European Union (EU) in order to strengthen health standards for better soil protection.
The main objective of the new regulation adopted by the European Parliament is to harmonise the rules on the fertiliser market at EU level, at a time when the sector is at the forefront of the fight against global warming. The old regulation has been rendered obsolete by technical progress and new expectations in terms of environmental and human health protection. The new regulation covers seven product categories: fertilisers (organic fertilisers, organo-mineral fertilisers and inorganic fertilisers), basic mineral amendments, soil improvers, growing media, inhibitors, plant biostimulants and mixtures of fertiliser products.
Cadmium in focus
In the field of organo-mineral or inorganic fertilisers, the new regulation sets new environmental standards for better soil protection. The tolerated limits for several compounds have been lowered, such as those for cadmium. Naturally present in phosphate-based mineral fertilisers, this chemical element, classified as a “definite carcinogen” in humans, permeates soils and penetrates very easily into cereals and vegetables via their roots. The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies it as a heavy metal. The EU has therefore decided to lower the maximum permissible level of cadmium in fertilisers from 90 to 60 mg/kg. From 16 July 2022, all fertilisers that exceed this standard will no longer be able to obtain the CE mark, the key to free access to the single market.
However, this new regulation has at least two limitations. Firstly, it only concerns products that are CE marked. If a national standard is less stringent than the Community standard – for example, if Austria authorises a fertiliser containing 80mg/kg of cadmium – the product can still be marketed in the country in question without a CE label. The fertiliser could even be exported to EU countries that also have national standards that are less stringent than the EU standard.
Furthermore, the new tolerance thresholds introduced by Regulation 2019/1009 are considered too unambitious by several organisations. In a recent report, the French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (Anses) recommended cadmium concentration levels below 20mg/kg. Several EU Member States have announced that they will request derogations in order to apply more restrictive national standards, as authorised by the new European regulations. This is the case for Slovakia, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. To anticipate this paradoxical situation, Regulation 2019/1009 already authorises fertiliser manufacturers to affix a green label to their products containing less than 20 mg/kg of cadmium. This may be further updated in the coming years.