No reduction of cadmium in fertilizers: the environment and the health of EU citizens are at stake

24 Nov 2017 | English

Slow Food urges EU governments not to side with the financial interests that are threatening people’s health

Yesterday, November 23, EU Member States did not reach an agreement on the Commission’s proposal to reduce the amount of cadmium in fertilizer. The proposal involved a reduction plan for the allowed presence of the toxic metal in fertilizers setting an initial limit of 60mg/kg, then 40mg/kg after three years and then at 20mg after 12 years. In contrast to the strong proposal of the Commission and the support of the Parliament in favor of the progressive reduction of cadmium, EU governments are taking a far more conservative stance on the issue.

Industry groups have tried to sabotage the 20mg limit and push it up to 60mg limit, which would make the cadmium concentration in our soils far worse. Detractors state that the costs for reducing the levels of cadmium in phosphate fertilizers are too high, but this issue has been discussed since 2003 and technologies already exist to help countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Togo— who are among the main producers of mineral fertilizers—to lower heavy metal levels in phosphate rocks.

Cadmium* is a heavy metal present in large quantities in phosphate fertilizers used in agriculture throughout Europe, but its presence is not useful for plants and is harmful to the environment and humans. It has been recognized as carcinogenic by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer). The reluctance of EU governments to lower our exposure to this toxic substance puts our health, that of the planet as well as the quality of our food products at risk.

“Cadmium has several critical issues,” says Francesco Sottile, professor of Arboreal Growth and Arboriculture at the University of Palermo and national advisor of Slow Food Italia. “In addition to being carcinogenic to humans, it affects microbial activity, resulting in less soil fertility and is highly persistent, so it resides in soils and contaminates aquifers. This means that the water used for irrigation and for public use is contaminated by high levels of cadmium. The solution is to choose models of agroecological production that do not involve the use of synthetic fertilizers, and therefore, cadmium contamination. “

It is precisely the agroecological model that Slow Food has always promoted in its projects all around the world: agroecology is based on the conservation and management of agricultural resources through participation, traditional knowledge and adaption to local conditions. The use of agroecology as a scientific term dates back to the 1970s, but many of its solutions have been applied throughout history by rural communities around the world.

The Presidency of the Council will now attempt to reach an agreement among EU governments before the end of the year, so as to have a clear mandate and discuss the proposed legislation together with the EU Parliament and Commission.

* More information about Cadmium:

  • Cadmium has been recognized as Group 1 carcinogenic by the IARC, i.e. carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to this heavy metal has consequences for the functioning of vital internal organs such as the lungs, kidneys, and provokes cardiovascular diseases, a reduction in fertility and osteoperosis.
  • A recent study showed that almost 13 hectares of agricultural soils sampled and almost 23 hectares of grazing land had high cadmium levels. (GEMAS project).
  • Cadmium is classified in the EU as toxic for water and for aquatic organisms.
  • The World Health Organization’s tolerable monthly intake for cadmium is 25mg/kg of body weight; a French study has revealed that approximately 910,000 adults exceed this limit by 90%. High cadmium levels are found in bread, potatoes and seafood.

For further information please contact:

Slow Food International Press Office

Paola Nano, Giulia Capaldi

[email protected] – Twitter: @SlowFoodPress 

Slow Food is a global grassroots organization that envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet. Slow Food involves over a million activists, chefs, experts, youth, farmers, fishers and academics in over 160 countries. Among them, a network of around 100,000 Slow Food members are linked to 1,500 local chapters worldwide, contributing through their membership fee, as well as the events and campaigns they organize. As part of the network, more than 2,400 Terra Madre food communities practice small-scale and sustainable production of quality food around the world.

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