Phosphorous and Nitrogen Agriculture

2017.10.20

Regulation can reduce the risk of eutrophication

The European Parliament will vote on the proposal for a regulation on fertilizer trade on 24 October. The bill aims to facilitate the production and marketing of fertilizers from, for example, manure. It should also set limit values for pollutants like cadmium in all manure.

So far, the limit values for cadmium have been the major stumbling block, and at the moment, there are indications that Parliament will not reach an agreement on the limit values – which would mean that the new law is not adopted.

The fertilizer trade regulation may reduce the risk of eutrophication

Together with other researchers from the countries in the Baltic Sea region, Baltic Eye at the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre has sent a letter to responsible ministers, demonstrating our support for the proposed law. In the letter, a total of 15 researchers note that the new regulation can reform the fertiliser trade and significantly contribute to increased recycling of nutrients, which in turn would reduce the risk of eutrophication.

In March 2016, the EU Commission presented a proposal for a new regulation on fertilizer trade. The proposal is part of the EU's work for a more circular economy, and aims at promoting recycling of nutrients by simplifying trade in fertilizer products, both organic fertilizers and mineral fertilizers. The proposed regulation also proposes common quality requirements for both nutritional and pollutant content, such as cadmium.

With the regulation, manure can be a valuable resource instead of a waste problem

Establishing common rules for the sale of fertilisers made from manure fertilisers will increase the chances that areas with excessive manure will begin to export manure. In livestock-dense areas, with too much manure, a new law could mean that it becomes more interesting to develop and produce a marketable product that can be transported to areas that lacks livestock and need organic fertilisers.

Consequently, manure can go from being seen as a waste problem to be seen as the valuable resource it actually is. Improved use of manure may in turn reduce the need for mineral fertilizer in the agricultural system. If the plant nutrients are used more efficiently and if smaller amounts of nutrients spin in the systems, the risk of leakage to the marine environment decreases. This would serve the Baltic Sea. Therefore, it is important that the new bill is adopted.

Focus on cadmium can hinder better handling of manure

The draft proposal has so far been discussed in the committee of the European Parliament. So far, the debate has focused on cadmium limits, because cadmium has well-known negative effects on human health. Strong lobbying forces from the fertilizer industry counteract strict limit values for cadmium, with the argument that it will be too expensive to clean the phosphor minerals during mining.

Today, the fertilizer industry buys phosphorus mainly from Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, whose phosphor mineral has naturally high levels of cadmium. If a new regulation sets strict limits, industry will be forced to either clean the phosphor mineral or simply buy it from other sources, mainly Russia. The fertilizer industry does not want to do any of this, which makes the risk that they will resist the proposed regulation great. That way there is a great risk that the cadmium issue will put sticks in the wheel for better manure management.

Good handling of manure can reduce the risk of eutrophication

Research at, among others, Baltic Eye at Stockholm University's Baltic Sea Centre, shows that surplus of manure in certain regions increases the risk of eutrophication. Baltic Eye supports the proposed regulation, as it can help to reduce nutrient surpluses and reduce the risk of eutrophication.

As soon as the Parliament has spoken, the Council of Ministers will discuss the matter. Together with other researchers from the Baltic Sea countries, Baltic Eye has raised responsible ministers and demonstrated our support for the proposed law (see attached letter).

När parlamentet har sagt sitt ska ministerrådet diskutera frågan. Tillsammans med andra forskare från Östersjöländerna har Baltic Eye uppvaktat ansvariga ministrar och visat vårt stöd för den föreslagna lagen, se bifogat brev.


balticeye@su.se