May 20. 2024. 12:02

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Commission wants to ease rules on use of processed manure for farming

The EU executive published a proposal on Friday (19 April) to revise the Nitrates Directive to make it easier to use fertilisers made from livestock manure.

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

According to the draft directive, which will be in the public consultation for 4 weeks, the use of manure and processed manure in agriculture ‘could reduce farmers’ exposure to volatile mineral fertiliser prices and close nutrient cycles.”

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, farmers across the bloc were hit by soaring fertiliser prices – an input for which the EU is notorioulsy dependent on imports from third countries, as confirmed by a recent study.

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

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

The move follows calls from several EU countries and a resolution promoted by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee to make it easier for farmers to use RENURE fertilisers.

The Dutch delegation, supported by Denmark and Italy, reiterated 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 plan to cut nitrogen emissions sparked a long wave of farmers’ demonstrations in 2022, ultimately leading the farmers’ party BBB win the largest share of seats in the Senate in the 2023 elections.

Dutch farmers’ protest party scores big election win, shaking up Senate

A farmers’ protest party shook up the political landscape in the Netherlands on Wednesday (15 March), emerging as the big winner in provincial elections that determine the make-up of the Senate.


The proposals on RENURE is “a new concrete and strategic move from the European Commission,” said the biggest EU farmers’ organisations COPA and COGECA on X, calling on the bloc’s executive “to make a similar proposal regarding digestates.”

However, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) opposed the Commission’s proposal, regretting the lack of an impact assessment and describing 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 executive in 2022 highlighted the conclusions of a study, published by the Joint Research Centre in 2020, which found that the use of RENURE must be “subject to strict requirements”, adding that these should be “fully consistent” with the Nitrates Directive.

Farmers’ push

RENURE is one of the solutions called for in the manifesto of 11 Dutch farmers’ organisations who demonstrated peacefully in Brussels and met high-rank Commission officials last Tuesday (16 April).

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 asked European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius to withdraw the 2022 decision 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 told Euractiv.

Read more with Euractiv

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In the next meeting on pesticides between the Commission and member states, on Monday and Tuesday, the bloc’s executive will table a regulation to slash to zero the insecticide thiacloprid residues in all food products, after having proposed to raise the limit of the maximum quantity of residues in imported food.