New proposals regarding cadmium levels in phosphate fertilisers could push the UK in to a dangerous trade alliance with Russia and lead to rising prices for farmers, it has been claimed.
The plans from the European Commission to change fertiliser regulations were slammed by farming groups as they passed through the European Parliament last week.
They would allow organic and waste-based fertilisers to be traded freely across the EU in the same way as mineral fertilisers by defining safety, quality and labelling requirements, as well as imposing strict limits for cadmium in phosphate fertilisers.
The limits will be reduced from 60mg/kg to 40mg/kg after three years and to 20mg/kg after 12 years, with the aim of protecting the environment and public health.
But the proposals were blasted as another example of scientific evidence being ignored in realtion to farming.
Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of EU farming group Copa-Cogeca, said there was ‘no scientific evidence’ to support the plans for cadmium limits.
“We believe a limit on cadmium in phosphate fertilisers could be harmonised at 60mg/kg after a transition period of at least 15 years,” he added.
NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly said the cadmium limits were ‘arbitrary’.
“Part of the Commission’s concern is accumulation of cadmium in the soil, but with fertiliser of no more than 80mg/kg, cadmium does not build up in the soil. Science is not being taken into account.
“The important thing to realise is levels other developed countries operate at. Take California, which is seen as a cautious state, their levels are 180mg/kg and Oregon’s go up to 338mg/kg. Japan is 148mg/kg, Australia is 131mg/kg, which gives an impression of the magnitude of difference we are looking at,” he added.
A statement from Fertilisers Europe, the body representing fertiliser manufacturers, said the limits would ‘negatively impact the international competitiveness of European farmers’.
At the moment, 70 per cent of EU phosphate imports are from countries in north and west Africa, where cadmium levels are much higher than 20mg/kg.
There is concern European farmers may be forced to start buying from Russia, where cadmium levels in phosphate are lower. It is thought the price of phosphate could go up as demand will outstrip Russian supply and EU-Russian diplomatic relations are at an all-time low.
Mr Hambly said relying on Russia for supplies of phosphate could only send prices one way and it is ‘not a comfortable place to be’.
“It is very concerning. Fertiliser input costs can be in the region of 45-50 per cent of total growing costs, so anything likely to increase price is of great concern to producers, particularly when competing on world markets,” he added.
Farming group concern
Farming groups also fear related plans to change current European labelling specifications which would allow manufacturers and retailers to sell their own speciality fertilisers will put additional pressure on prices, as well as making it more difficult for farmers to compare costs.
Reinhard Buscher, head of the chemicals unit at the EU’s agriculture department, said the Commission understood farmers need to use phosphate fertilisers to grow food and will not ‘cut off farmers’ from access to the fertilisers.
But, he added: “This is not to say we should give up our ambition to develop more sustainable fertilisers which allow contaminated soil to get clean faster.”
The Commission’s proposal could be law by 2018, after an ‘intense political fight’ between the European Parliament, Commission and member states.