EU Commission Proposes Relaxing Regulations on Agricultural Use of Processed Manure

Giuseppe de vita
Credit: Prime Minister Alexander De Croo photographed during a plenary session of the Chamber at the Federal Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, February 28, 2024. Image credit: euobserver.

Brussels (Brussels Morning) – The EU Commission proposes relaxing rules on using processed manure in farming to address fertiliser costs and improve nutrient cycles. However, environmental groups oppose the move.

The European Commission seeks to promote the use of bio-based fertilisers and nitrogen obtained via the treatment and processing of animal waste– a process understood as Recovered Nitrogen from manure (RENURE).

According to the EURACTIV, the draft directive which will be in the public talk for 4 weeks, the use of manure and processed waste in agriculture ‘could facilitate farmers’ exposure to explosive mineral fertiliser costs and close nutrient cycles.”

Following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, farmers across the bloc were struck by skyrocketing fertiliser prices – an input for which the European Union is notoriously dependent on imports from third nations, as endorsed by a recent study

What Amendments Does the Commission Recommend?

The EU executive’s recommendation amends the so-called Nitrates Directive, presented in 1991 to protect water quality by controlling nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters. 

Among others, the Commission wants to permit the use of RENURE above the 170kg nitrogen per hectare limitation, set by the Nitrates Directive.

The action follows calls from several EU countries and a resolution announced by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee to make it more comfortable for farmers to use RENURE fertilisers. 

The Dutch delegation, sponsored by Denmark and Italy, restated last January the call for, “abolishing the distinction being made between synthetic fertilisers on the one hand and manure-based fertilisers (such as RENURE and digestate) on the other hand”.

In the Netherlands, the government’s strategy to cut nitrogen emissions sparked a long wave of farmers’ protests in 2022, ultimately leading the farmers’ party BBB to win the largest share of seats in the Senate in the 2023 elections.

Who Supports and Opposes the Proposed Changes?

The recommendations on RENURE is “a new concrete and strategic move from the EU Commission,” stated the biggest EU farmers’ associations COPA and COGECA on X, calling on the bloc’s executive “to create a similar proposal regarding digestates.”

However, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) resisted the Commission’s proposal, regretting the absence of an impact assessment and defining it as “another gift to farmers” after months of protests across the bloc.

“Slightly tweaked manure would be allowed above current legal thresholds set to protect water,” Sara Johansson, a senior policy officer at the EEB told Euractiv, adding that “this is not the way towards a water-resilient Europe.”

A communication from the EU Commission in 2022 underlined the conclusions of a study, published by the Joint Research Centre in 2020, which discovered that the use of RENURE must be “subject to stringent requirements”, adding that these should be “fully compatible” with the Nitrates Directive.

RENURE is one of the explanations called for in the manifesto of 11 Dutch farmers’ organisations who presented peacefully in Brussels and confronted high-rank Commission officials last Tuesday 16 April 2024. 

It “could provide some alleviation in specific situations in the absence of space for the placing of animal manure,” the documents read, calling “the European and Dutch authorities” to “adjust the legislation” to make the “use of Renure possible.” 

Dutch farmers urged European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius to withdraw the 2022 conclusions on the derogations of the nitrogen directive for the Netherlands.  “That decision shrunk the areas in which we can place our manure” causing an increase in costs, Harmen Endendijk from the Dutch Dairy Farmers Association said.

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Giuseppe De Vita is a journalist at Brussels Morning News, He is covering European politics, Law and Technology news. Lawyer at De Vita & Partners Law Firm specializing in Criminal Law, Military and Space Law, and Cyber Security. In April 2023, he authored the monograph "Governance in Extraterrestrial Space", showcasing his extensive legal expertise. He has acquired vast experience in handling criminal and civil matters, managing litigation before various levels of jurisdiction across the national territory. In 2010, he obtained a Master's degree in Information Technology Law. Additionally, in the same year, he served as a teacher in criminal-IT subjects at the Penitentiary Police School of Portici, providing courses aimed at officials and managers of the Penitentiary Police and the Penitentiary Administration, focusing on IT security. He also serves as a Workplace Safety teacher, conducting training courses at various organizations and educational institutions. Moreover, he is a lecturer on Anti-Corruption and Transparency. The law firm, under his guidance, assists both private and corporate clients in court, accumulating significant experience in criminal and civil disputes over the years. Furthermore, it conducts Risk Management and Compliance, Cyber Resilience, and Cyber Security activities, with a specific focus on privacy protection (EU Regulation 2016/679 - GDPR). Giuseppe frequently publishes articles in legal journals, analyzing various regulatory issues. He has contributed articles to the legal journal Altalex, of which he is also a member of the Scientific Committee.