MEPs on Parliament’s Environment Committee have today backed a full ban on glyphosate-based herbicides by December 2020 – a direct rebuttal of the Commission’s proposal to renew the controversial herbicide licence for 10 years.

EU governments will decide whether to follow suit and block the licence next Wednesday 25 October.

But the day before the glyphosate decision is expected, the farming world’s attention will be focused on cadmium, as all MEPs vote on whether to limit the amount of the toxic carcinogen, this time found in mineral fertiliser products sold across the EU to 20mg per kg.

Cadmium – which occurs naturally in phosphate rock and is the main component of mineral fertilisers – pollutes soil and water before being taken up by the crops used to grow both food and animal feed. Cadmium is classed as a class 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization and exposure can also lead to pulmonary disorders, kidney damage and dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, fertility problems, and osteoporosis. Research shows that a 20mg/kg limit on cadmium in fertilisers is the bare minimum required to limit cadmium contamination of soil and higher limits could pose serious threats to human health and the environment.

Ahead of the vote on new EU fertiliser rules next week, European political groups are revealing their positions. The leading political group in the Parliament (the centre right European People’s Party) wants a 60 mg/kg limit, whereas liberal MEPs in the ALDE group and the centre left S&D group favour a gradual phase-out to 20mg.

Reducing cadmium pollution from other sectors in the EU has been largely successful, to the point that farming is the last sector that remains a main source of exposure today.

For environmentalists it is vital that the EU tackles this last bastion of cadmium pollution, and they call on MEPs to be coherent in their approaches to cadmium and glyphosate.

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

“Next week, all MEPs must be as ambitious on cadmium as these Environment MEPs have been today on glyphosate. It’s crucial that they stand up for environmental protection and public health and control this toxic carcinogen.”

Environmentalists are also concerned by a last-minute amendment from the lead EPP MEP on the issue, Mihai Țurcanu from Romania, that seeks to modify how processed manure is defined under the fertiliser rules so that it would no longer fall under the scope of restrictions on manure spreading set by the Nitrates Directive.

Faustine Bas-Defossez added:

“Farms with high livestock densities that are not in proportion to the size of the holding itself produce an excessive amount of manure that cannot all be absorbed by soil. Excluding processed manure from the scope of an essential piece of legislation on water protection that sets limits on excess manure spreading in vulnerable areas could lead to further uncontrolled expansion of the industrial livestock sector. The reality is that these restrictions on manure spreading are there to protect our environment and health as over-fertilisation results in excess nitrate-rich manure running off fields and polluting groundwater, and in turn our drinking water.”

Speaking to ARTE in a recent documentary that lifts the lid on the true cost of cheap meat, ex-Commissioner Karl Falkenberg who now works as an adviser on sustainable development at the Commission’s in-house think tank, the European Political Strategy Centre, said:

“There is an EU law that states water should not contain more than 10mg of nitrates per litre. As a result, exceeding the limit by 50mg and even to 70 or 80mg as is the case in Germany in regions where there is a lot of intensive agriculture is not acceptable and we must intervene.”

In 2016 the European Commission referred the German government to the EU Court over its alleged breach of the Nitrates Directive.

Environmentalists have also criticised an amendment made to the report on new fertilisers’ rules that seeks to stop any new potentially dangerous substances used in fertiliser products from being risk assessed to see if they should go on the EU’s list of banned chemicals – otherwise known as REACH.