On 10 November 2021, OPERA Research Center published a scientific paper, the White Book, assessing the impacts of cadmium on ecosystem services, agri-food and health in Europe.

The paper, which was peer-reviewed by the scientific community, aims to provide a comprehensive examination of cadmium, from its toxic and carcinogenic nature to its dangerous ability, through fertilizer use, to contaminate our soils, and ultimately, the food chain. The White Book also addresses how European fertilizer policy reflects the cadmium issue, highlighting legislative gaps and the urgent call for action.

“OPERA joins the many voices calling for urgent action to recommend the sale of exclusively low cadmium fertilizers, to make Ecolabels and Green Stickers informative and precise, and to invest in training and extension programmes for farmers” (Prof. Ettore Capri, Director at OPERA Research).

This scientific publication aims to warn of the link between the presence of cadmium in soil – and, ultimately, the food chain – with the use of phosphate fertilizers with high cadmium content. Because not all phosphate fertilizers are created equal, with cadmium content depending on the type of phosphorite and apatite rocks used, better fertilization practices can be implemented. The book also discusses why European soils provide the optimal characteristics for cadmium accumulation, due to mild temperatures and prolonged summer droughts in the region. The paper underlines how these factors combined with weak legislative restriction on cadmium, are raising the alarm bell for the health and fertility of our soils, but also the quality of our food, water and air.

“Judicious use of phosphate fertilizers increases agricultural productivity, reduces the need to cultivate additional land, helps prevent soil degradation and crop failures” (Prof. Ettore Capri, Director at OPERA Research).

In line with the opinions expressed by EFSA1 and ANSES2, the cornerstone of the White Book is to advocate for a stricter limitation on cadmium content in phosphorus fertilizers. The paper argues why the current threshold set out by Regulation (EU) 2019/1009 is inadequate and why for both public health and environmental concerns stricter limits are necessary.