Dawn of the new EU fertilisers regulation

The concept of circular economy is gaining ground in countless ways and sectors. The business models such an economy brings sustains the paradigm that we can no longer produce and consume in a linear way (extracting, processing, consuming and disposing).

Rather we should either develop alternatives which embrace eco-design and a zero-waste approach. Agriculture is no exception and the future EU Fertilising Products Regulation offers opportunities for circular economy products to break through in agriculture.

On 20 November, the European institutions reached a provisional agreement on the proposal for a revised Fertilising Products Regulation (EC 2003/2003). While the provisional agreement still requires technical checks and formal endorsements by the respective EU-legislators (1), it sets the tone and paves the way for harmonised rules throughout Europe as regards organic fertilisers or recycled materials used in fertilising products.

Let’s take a few steps back…

A snapshot of the Fertilising Products Regulation

Introduced in 2003, the current Fertilising Products Regulation lays down the rules fertilisers have to comply with in order to be eligible for the “CE” label.

The scope of the Regulation EC 2003/2003 was limited to inorganic fertilisers (2). By inorganic, the legislators referred to mined or chemically produced fertilisers, thereby leaving no room for a level playing field for recycled materials or organic fertilisers to access the internal market. However, it provided inorganic fertilisers a common framework for their production, labelling, marketing and free movement within the internal market.

Amid societal and environmental challenges, fertilising product manufacturers started to innovate and develop fertilisers made of recycled nutrients or organic fertilisers. However, those new solutions couldn’t find access to the EU market. Indeed, the EU regulatory framework restricted their free movement and only focused on inorganic fertilisers.

Back into the recent past

In March 2016, the European Commission tabled its proposal for a revised Fertilising Products Regulation as part of the Circular Economy Package. The policy objective was threefold:

  • To develop a regulatory framework opening CE marking for organic fertilisers and fertilisers made of recycled materials,
  • To revise the existing framework, so as to limit the levels of contaminants in fertilisers (e.g. Cadmium residues in soils), and
  • To create a regulatory framework flexible enough for continuous innovation in the fertilising market while maintaining high safety and environmental protection standards.

Negotiations among the European institutions lasted over the past two years and half before a political agreement was reached on 20 November 2018. In doing so, they secured a political agreement on the limits of Cadmium residues in the soils, paving the way for the European institution to officially endorse the proposal for a regulation.

The new European framework for fertilising products will enable manufacturers of organic fertilisers to benefit from similar governing rules as inorganic fertilisers manufacturers for the production and the marketing of fertilising products within the European Union. In addition, it will create incentives farmers or wastewater treatment operators, for example, to recycle nutrients and to make more sustainable, biodegradable fertilisers. This approach also crafts a more stringent framework for inorganic fertilisers.

What’s next?

The Regulation should be formally endorsed by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union by January 2019 at the latest, and will enter into force in early 2019.

However, several technical aspects have been left aside. For instance, what makes a fertiliser truly biodegradable? What criteria should we establish to measure ‘biodegradability’?  The European Commission has a mandate to regulate such technical aspects through delegated/implementing acts in the coming years. The future is therefore promising for sustainable fertilisers.

(1) European Parliament and Council of the European Union, comprising representatives from the 28 Member States.
(2) i.e. inorganic straight primary nutrient fertilisers, inorganic compound primary nutrient fertilisers, Inorganic fluid fertilisers, Inorganic secondary nutrients fertilisers, and Inorganic micro-nutrient fertilisers.


Quentin Galland

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