European Parliament backs plan to limit carcinogen in fertilisers

Today in the European Parliament, MEPs voted to limit the amount of cadmium – a toxic carcinogen – sold in fertiliser products across Europe. MEPs voted to support a Commission proposal to reduce cadmium levels in fertilisers to 20mg/kg.

Environmental contamination from cadmium-rich mineral fertilisers also has implications for human health when the carcinogenic heavy metal makes its way into the crops that grow food and animal feed.

While reducing cadmium pollution from other sectors in the EU has been largely successful, farming remains the last major bastion of cadmium exposure, with waterways and soil bearing the brunt of cadmium pollution.

The Parliament gave its green light to decreasing cadmium limits from 60 mg/kg to 40 mg/kg after six years (instead of three years as proposed by the Commission) and to 20 mg/kg after sixteen years (instead of the 12 years suggested by the Commission).

EU governments will give their view on controlling cadmium when three-way talks between the Commission, Parliament, and national capitals get underway in the coming weeks.

Despite the longer lead in time before the new limits apply, for environmentalists the vote result was welcome news as they had feared that attempts from some MEPs to push through 60mg/kg or 80mg/kg limits might be successful.

EEB Policy Manager for Agriculture and Bioenergy, Faustine Bas-Defossez, said:

Thankfully the European Parliament has stood up for health and the environment today but it is shameful that so many MEPs attempted to keep high levels of this dangerous carcinogen in the fertilisers that are spread on the crops that grow our food. Not only is cadmium a carcinogen but it is also linked to osteoporosis, kidney failure, heart disease, and fertility problems. Around 910,000 adults in France alone exceed tolerable intake limits of cadmium by 90%. Cadmium is also a danger to our previous environment as it pollutes waterways and soil.

In another vote, MEPs also called for a full ban on glyphosate-based herbicides by December 2022 and for immediate restrictions on the use of the substance. While the glyphosate vote was non-binding and holds no legislative sway, it was seen as a strategic move by Parliament to flex its muscles the day before a much-anticipated decision from EU governments on the renewal of glyphosate’s licence.