The OPERA Research Institute & Safer Phosphates were delighted to jointly organise a webinar on Healthy Soils for Sustainable Agriculture”, in partnership with leading Brussels media outlet EurActiv.

The Safer Phosphates Secretary General, Pascal Michaux, along with speakers and guests from EU institutions, international organisations, think tanks, academia and consumer organisations discussed how the EU can achieve clean and healthy soils.

The panellists agreed that the presence of cadmium in soils affects soil health, food safety and puts consumers’ health at risk. They underlined the need for robust European and national regulation that puts EU farmers and consumers at its heart.

Safer Phosphates’ Pascal Michaux stressed that cadmium poses risks to human health and its use in fertilisers needs to be reduced. He called on the EU to be ambitious in its newly published Soil Strategy and introduce the lower level of 20mg/kg for cadmium in fertilisers (the current level is 60 mg/kg).

Mr Michaux also argued in favour of a discussion that is driven by scientific data and pragmatism rather than geopolitics. He called for Europe to stop subsidising contaminated phosphates by lifting European duties on cleaner phosphates originating from several non-European countries.

The event was co-hosted by the renowned research centre OPERA, whose director Prof. Ettore Capri presented its White Paper on cadmium in phosphates. The paper called on EU decision-makers to take urgent action in relation to the sale of exclusively low cadmium fertilisers, to make Ecolabels and Green Stickers informative and precise, and to invest in training and extension programmes for farmers.

Key takeaways:

  • Clear and effective measures must be taken, based on available scientific data, to address cadmium contamination. The threshold of 60 mg/Ca kg in phosphate fertilisers is unambitious and does not address the urgent risks posed by heavy metal contamination from fertiliser products.

  • The EU must take decisions on health and soil protection based on scientific evidence and data, leaving geopolitical considerations aside.

  • Member States can go further by adopting national derogations and diversifying the importers of phosphate fertilisers, favouring those working with clean phosphate rock, as well as offering financial incentives to farmers to make sustainable choices.

  • More public information on the danger of heavy metals in fertilisers, on cadmium in particular, is needed for both farmers and consumers. Green labelling will help consumers and farmer make informed choices.

  • Policy and information measures must be accompanied by financial incentives for farmers to use clean phosphate fertilisers, which can be done through the new CAP. It is important to stop subsidising producers that supply highly contaminated phosphate rock, and to accompany farmers in the transition to agriculture which is more sustainable and better protects soil health.