Commission weighs up single market rules for fertilisers

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The European Commission has kicked off a review of EU legislation on fertilisers in a bid to adopt draft proposals to fully harmonise the market by the end of 2012, EURACTIV has learned.

The Commission has started to assess regulatory options to fully harmonise the internal market for all types of fertiliser and extend it to growing matter and soil improvers.

The review process follows a recently published ex-post evaluation of the current Fertilisers Regulation, which dates back to 2003.

The regulation only ensures the free circulation of mineral fertilisers approved at EU level and does not include "national fertilisers" placed on the market separately in individual countries (see 'Background').

According to the Commission, member states are reluctant to accept the EU principle of mutual recognition for national fertilisers. In addition, it says technical barriers hinder intra-EU trade, leading to a potential distortion of the market which it says should be addressed.

In addition, a growing amount of fertilisers are not covered by EU laws because they are not of mineral origin, like those currently approved at European level. Indeed, ever larger quantities of fertilisers are now produced from organic waste streams. And others which are used as inputs for agriculture, such as soil improvers and growing matter, are also not harmonised at EU level.

Environmental concerns

The current provisions of the EU Fertilisers Regulation do not always fully address environmental concerns either, the Commission says.

Concerns about fertilisers have in recent years centred on environmental issues, such as the presence of heavy metals in mineral fertilisers, but this is not reflected in the current law, the Commission says. It suggests closing this gap by including maximum levels of heavy metals in the Fertilisers Regulation.

Consultation under way

Three external contractors have been commissioned by the EU executive's enterprise and industry department to provide technical support in the review process to study the related economic, environmental and social impacts of amending the current rules.

Their tasks include reviewing existing national fertiliser laws, regulations and standards which are not within the scope of the current EU regulation and advising on the establishment of essential safety requirements for full harmonisation of legislation on mineral and organic fertilisers, including raw materials and final products.

The data collection process will also include an analysis of available literature and stakeholder interviews.

All actors in the fertiliser supply chain and other interested parties are invited to participate in the revision of the Fertiliser Regulation by responding to an online questionnaire by the end of May.

The survey aims to collect detailed information on fertilising materials and on how their placing on the market is regulated – or not – in the member states.

According to industry group Fertilisers Europe, the existing fertiliser law "has proven to be a good piece of legislation with many positive aspects". However, in view of the consequences of implementing the Mutual Recognition regulation, the group now sees a necessity to fully harmonise legislation on plant nutrients.

In that respect, Fertilisers Europe "can see some advantage to adhere to a concept of 'essential requirements' backed up by harmonised standards and the inclusion of organo-mineral, organic fertiliser, soil improvers, etc. into such a harmonised approach.”

"But, switching from the concept of fertiliser legislation based on fertiliser-type designation and going to ingredient-based legislation may induce more flexibility in product registration, which may put security and safety at risk. This has to be carefully considered to avoid serious consequences for the industry and the environment," it added.

The EU market for fertilisers is currently only partly harmonised and covers just some of the products that are placed on the market.

The EU Fertilisers Regulation (October 2003) aims to ensure the free circulation of fertilisers that meet strict requirements on nutrient content, safety, and absence of adverse effects on the environment.

In its current form, the regulation applies only to inorganic mineral fertilisers and does not affect 'national fertilisers' placed on the market in EU member states. Neither does it cover organic or organo-mineral fertilisers, liming material or non-fertiliser products, such as growing matter and organic soil improvers.

Regulation (EC) No 764/2008 on mutual recognition ensures the free movement of goods on the internal market in the non-harmonised area through mutual recognition between member states. This obliges EU countries to accept products lawfully marketed in another member state unless they can demonstrate that the product poses a risk to human health or the environment.

However, member states are in general reluctant to accept mutual recognition for national fertilisers, as they are not convinced that the requirements relating to the protection of human health or the environment in other member states are equivalent to their own.

  • Nov. 2010: Final report on ex-post evaluation of current Fertilisers Regulation.
  • 31 May 2011: Deadline of consultation.
  • Nov. 2011: Final report of study on options to fully harmonise EU legislation on fertilising materials - including technical feasibility and environmental, social and economic impacts - expected to be completed.
  • 2012: Impact assessment on options to harmonise EU fertiliser market.
  • Dec. 2012Proposal for regulation relating to fertilisers and repealing current regulation.

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