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Denmark wins an environmental guarantee case against the EU about the maximum limit of cadmium in fertilizers

The EU has agreed with Denmark, which has stricter regulations on cadmium levels in fertilizers, alluding that this heavy metal is harmful, both for the environment and for human health.


Crop field.

Denmark has struggled hard not to be forced to relax the strict Danish rules for the use of cadmium in commercial fertilizers. The EU now declares that there is no need to lower Danish requirements, after Denmark has just won an environmental guarantee case in the EU.

It certainly does not happen every day that a minister invokes the environmental guarantee. The last time was in 2008 for nitrite and nitrate additives in food, and this is only the fifth time that Denmark has used the environmental guarantee since we became a member of the EU.

The environmental guarantee allows EU member states to maintain or introduce national standards in certain areas despite EU standards on harmonization. Environment Minister Lea Wermelin relied on the EU environmental guarantee precisely to ensure that strict Danish limits for cadmium content in fertilizers can be maintained when the EU in 2022 introduces new common limit values ​​in the area.

"I had no doubt that we should take up the fight to maintain our strict Danish rules here. Cadmium is toxic to the environment and can cause serious harm to humans. Therefore, Danes should be exposed to the least amount possible of cadmium, and I am glad we managed to win the case, "says Environment Minister Lea Wermelin.

Cadmium is a natural contaminant in crude phosphate, found in commercial fertilizers. Therefore, it is on the ground. Humans are particularly exposed to cadmium through the diet, as plants absorb small amounts of cadmium from the soil. The Danish limit value ensures a low supply of cadmium to the soil and therefore also to Danish food.

The EU has not previously had common limit values ​​for cadmium in fertilizers, but it will be introduced from 2022 to reduce the intake of cadmium from food by the European population. The limit value for cadmium in the EU will be 60 mg per kilo of phosphate for fertilizers with more than 2.2% phosphorus content and will come into force in 2022. Since 1989, Denmark has its own limit value for fertilizers with more than 1% phosphorus. With the decision on the environmental guarantee, Denmark has the right to maintain a lower limit value of 48 mg cadmium per kg phosphate for fertilizers with more than 2.2% phosphorus.

"The Danes get less cadmium from food than the EU average, thanks in part to strict Danish standards on cadmium in fertilizers and long-term Danish efforts. The decision on the environmental assurance case ensures that we can continue protecting the environment and people from the harmful effects of cadmium. It is an important victory, "says Lea Wermelin.

Facts about the environmental guarantee case
  • Cadmium (Cd) is a toxic heavy metal that, if ingested over the long term, can cause serious harm to humans, including kidneys.

  • Denmark can maintain the national limit value for cadmium in fertilizers with more than 2.2% phosphorus until a limit value is adopted in the EU at or below the Danish limit value.

  • Fertilizers with less than 2.2% phosphorus are harmonized with upcoming EU standards and Danish standards are not maintained. EU standards establish a limit value of 3 mg of cadmium per kg of dry matter. Most of the cadmium supply comes from fertilizers with a phosphorus content higher than 2.2% and therefore adaptation is of little importance.

  • The Commission is committed to assessing the feasibility of lowering the common European limit value for cadmium in phosphate fertilizers by 2026.

  • In addition to cadmium in fertilizers, Denmark's long-standing efforts against cadmium also include an EU ban on cadmium in various plastic materials and various other consumer products, and requirements for flue gas cleaning. In its decision, the Commission acknowledges that the stricter Danish standards for cadmium in fertilizers help to continue to protect the environment and humans from the harmful effects of cadmium.

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