Attempt to weaken farm water pollution rules foiled in Parliament committee vote

Intensive farming contributes to water and air pollution, to soil damage and climate change.

Yet, in a move condemned by the EEB, MEPs on Parliament’s Internal Market committee have today tried [1] to push through a bid to relax rules on the use of processed animal manure as a fertilizer in already-polluted areas – despite the fact that excessive spreading of manure runs off fields, contaminating rivers, waterways, and air.

The EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental organisations with 141 members in over 30 countries. 

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

Thankfully a majority of MEPs voted infavour of the vital EU environmental rules that protect us from the dangerous overuse of fertilisers. It would be absurd to loosen them given the unavoidable reality is that there are limits to how much manure plants can absorb. If too much is spread as a fertiliser it will run off fields and lead to more water pollution. Overuse of fertilisers has been linked to spikes in air pollution, and the cost of cleaning up polluted water could see the price of drinking water shoot up in the coming years as authorities have to cough up more to make it safe to drink. [2 & 3]

“While the MEPs who want to weaken the rules might have made environmentally-noble sounding claims about wanting to help farmers exploit the potential of recycling animal waste and recovering nutrients from it, this is nothing short of green-washing and their real motivation is to pave the way for more investment in the livestock and dairy sectors.


[1] MEPs on Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) committee voted on amendments tabled by Dutch MEP Jan Huitema that seeks to use the current revision of the Fertilisers Regulation to amend how manure is defined in the Nitrates Directive through the back door. The proposed amendments to the Nitrates Directive would make it possible for processed manure to be applied above the environmental safety threshold of 170 kg N/ha in water polluted areas thus significantly weakening the possibility of reducing water pollution to safe levels.

[2] There are limits to how much plants can absorb from manure’s organic matter and therefore nitrogen recycling from manure should in no way be used as a pretext to relax restrictions on nitrate levels in soil and water, nor should it be used to encourage growth in the meat sector. Exceeding sustainable limits of manure is not circular and leads to leakages which are environmentally harmful. Successful nitrogen recovery from manure goes hand in hand with levels of production and consumption of animal products that are in line with ecological limits within a given region and sustainable diets. EEB Factsheet on Nitrogen Pollution

[3] Earlier this month the German Environment Agency UBA has estimated that the price of drinking water in Germany could increase by up to 45% over the coming years due to rising costs of removing nitrates present in groundwater because of excessive use of fertiliser.

[4] EEB briefing

For more information:

Mauro Anastasio, Communications Officer, European Environmental Bureau

+32 4 83 63 85 57