EU court condemns Germany for exceeding nitrate limits

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled 21 June that Germany breached EU law by allowing an excessive use of manure as a fertiliser [Tobias 1900]

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled on Thursday (21 June) that Germany had breached EU law by allowing an excessive use of manure as a fertiliser, thus violating the limits set out in the EU’s nitrates directive which aims to reduce water pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources.

“Manure doesn’t appear out of nowhere – industrial livestock farming is the clear culprit. We’re up to our necks in crap and the solution is not to stand on our tippy toes, but to drain the slurry. The manure problem isn’t only in Germany, a good start would be for the EU to stop funding the factory farms that pump it out,” said Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero.

In 2016, the European Commission brought Germany into court for failing to step up its efforts to combat nitrate pollution. The current European legislation set a limit at 50 milligrams of nitrate per litre of water. In its report on nitrates in 2016, Berlin acknowledged that this limit was exceeded at 28% of the German groundwater monitoring stations.

Germany revised its fertiliser ordinance in 2017 and set new limits for nitrogen fertilisation, extended time-frame for fertiliser bans and fertiliser-free areas around water bodies. The European Court of Justice now said it is still insufficient.

“Manure in water is shit”

In Berlin, Greenpeace militants protested by displaying a giant plate full of manure in front of the Bundestag, the German parliament.

Under the slogan “manure in water is shit”, they wanted to raise awareness on the health and environmental consequences of mass animal husbandry. They said extensive industrial farming is to blame for manure polluting water in Germany.

Nitrate pollution of waterways can cause blooms of algae, which drain the water of oxygen, choking fish and other wildlife, the environmental organisation explained.

It said that nitrates can also be converted into toxic nitrite in the human body, which is particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women.

It also pointed out the economic impact of manure-polluted water, arguing that it will become increasingly expensive for communal water works to keep the water clean, which in turn would lead to a sharp rise in water prices.

Greenpeace is calling for a new fertiliser ordinance in Germany that would record the nutrients of all farms and also show how much manure is transported to and from where.

It also calls for a refocusing of EU agricultural subsidies towards environmentally and water-compatible agricultural practices as well as improved animal welfare in livestock farming.

Germany will now have to comply with the Court decision or face a new infringement procedure from the European Commission. This infringement procedure could result in a second Court ruling imposing Germany to pay fines, if it is found to still be in breach of EU law.

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