The Farm to Fork strategy is at the heart of the European Green Deal to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly. The aim of the strategy is to improve food production in the direction of greater sustainability, in part by using fewer pesticides and fertilisers. 

The EU concluded that there is currently an excess use of fertilisers, in particular, nitrogen (which lead to specific issues) and phosphate fertilisers. Moreover, research found that excess fertiliser use has no real benefit to agriculture and agricultural productivity, given that not all nutrients are effectively absorbed by plants. The excess nutrients can then lead to air, soil and water pollution and have an impact on the climate.

As a result, the European Commission proposes to reduce fertiliser use by at least 20% by 2030 by implementing and enforcing the relevant environmental and climate legislation in full. The European Commission intends to work closely with Member States to ensure this nutrient load reduction. In addition to the National CAP Strategic Plans, the Commission will develop with Member States an Integrated Nutrient Management Action Plan to address nutrient pollution at source.

In the case of pesticide use, there was a clear indication that substances which are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction (CMRs) and/or endocrine disruptors (Eds) or candidates for substitution should be removed from the market first to ensure a risk and volume reduction. However, no clear indications were given about fertiliser use, or the risks that specific fertilisers pose to human health and environment. Phosphate and nitrogen fertilisers were targeted (not potassium fertilisers), but without more precise reasoning or indications.

In the Council, Agri Ministers adopted conclusions on their assessment of the Farm to Fork strategy on 19 October 2020. Welcoming the Commission’s proposal to present the Farm to Fork strategy, a draft report prepared by European Parliament’s co-rapporteurs Herbert Dorfmann (EPP, IT, AGRI) and Anja Hazekamp (GUE/NGL, NL,ENVI) was published in December 2020 and will be updated with opinions and amendments within the next two months.

What will be the possible role of clean fertilisers?

Safer Phosphates believes that phosphate fertilisers containing high-level of contaminants (such as cadmium) must be strictly limited under the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy as part of the 20% volume reduction target.

In addition, Safer Phosphates considers that within the National CAP Strategic Plans, as well as the Nutrient Management Action Plan, there should be objectives to incentivise the use of ‘Green’ labelled phosphate fertilisers, while those containing heavy metals, such as cadmium in particular, should be penalised. 

It is essential to distinguish between contaminated fertilisers, which must be reduced, and ‘clean’ fertilisers which can (thanks to sufficient supply) and must (to fit in with ecological and health objectives) be used more widely in Europe.