Environment 24 May, 2017 9:00 am   
Editorial staff

How to protect fertilizers business and environment? Interview with Grupa Azoty CEO is talking to the Azoty Group CEO, on the EC proposal to change the EU regulation on cadmium in fertilizers.

In March 2016, the European Commission presented a Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down rules on on the making available on the market of CE marked fertilising products and amending Regulations (EC) No 1069/2009 and (EC) No 1107/2009 COM(2016)157, which will limit unwanted substances in fertilizing products, including cadmium. The EC proposed to limit the element’s content to 60 mg per 1 kilogram of phosphorus and then decrease that to 40 and later on 20 mg. The want to limit cadmium soil contamination as much as possible. Currently, there are no cadmium limits at the European level. In Poland the permitted cadmium limit is significantly higher that the EC target, which according to fertilizer producers is impossible to be achieved by the European industry.

What kind of actions did the Azoty Group take on the EU arena to minimize the changes in the EU regulation and their negative impact on the Polish chemical industry?

CEO of Azoty, Wojciech Wardacki, PhD:

The Azoty Group is taking vigorous action regarding the regulation. A dedicated team of experts was established, which is taking part in those activities and in legislative works. The Azoty Group together with our allies from the AEEP (Alliance Europeenne des Engrais Phosphates) is in regular contact with key Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), their advisors and assistants. We have been working on this intensively and strongly for a year.

We have full support from Polish MEPs, who are exceptionally active and vigilant when it comes to this subject. We are very grateful for that. The amendments submitted by the majority of the Polish MEPs proposed to increase the acceptable amount of cadmium to 80mg per one kilogram of phosphorus in fertilizers. The Commission, similarly to Hungary and the Scandinavian states, proposed that the ultimate permissible level of cadmium should be 20mg. We cannot accept this proposition.

We want the regulation to allow for 80mg per one kilogram of phosphorus in fertilizers, because, on the one hand it will fulfill the EC’s environmental goal, and on the other, it will enable the industry to adapt to the new limits and implement new technologies. Additionally, together with academic institutions specializing in soil science and food security, we are running an awareness campaign whose goal is to explain that there is no link between fertilizers and food contamination.

Is the company forming a coalition against these harmful regulations?

We are also active in international organizations such as Fertilizers Europe. However, our competitors have the most to say on this forum, and they want to lower the cadmium in fertilizers as much as possible. We created our own association whose goal is to limit changes that will harm companies, which produce fertilizers based on phosphorite. Thanks to our efforts, our association and close cooperation with the Polish government, we formed a coalition of six states in the European Council, which gave us a blocking minority. Other states, such as France and Italy may also join our alliance. Apart from Poland, Great Britain, Spain, Romania and Bulgaria are against such drastic limitations on cadmium.

The issue is simple – it’s about access to the raw material. Russians are offering apatites, which naturally have a scarce amount of cadmium. Due to geopolitical and market reasons we cannot import this raw material from Russia, and all its other types available on the market have a high cadmium presence, higher than the limit proposed by the EU. To fit within the limit, phosphorite products will need to have the cadmium content decreased. Despite many years of research there exists no technology that would allow this on an industrial scale. Even if it becomes available, it will drastically increase fertilizers prices and thus decrease our market competitiveness. Therefore, we are taking steps to limit the negative impact of the cadmium limit on the Company and, on the other hand, we are also getting ready to gradually remove cadmium from fertilizers.

At what stage is the resolution now?

Currently the resolution is in the hands of interested committees in the European Parliament, the amendments introduced by MEPs are being consolidated. The plan is that the debates and voting will take place in the second half of the year. The Council is moving slower and we are expecting that the resolution will be adopted next year.

Do you want to acquire a source of low-cadmium phosphorite?

We are working on this and soon we will be able to inform the market about our actions regarding this issue.

The media are criticizing the Azoty Group’s strategy on fighting against the cadmium limit regulations. Would you like to comment on that?

Many people are interested in the cadmium issue for various reasons, but they are not always based on facts. Few people actually understand this complicated subject, which includes dependencies between interests of various companies, states, associations or interests groups. At the same time we cannot talk publicly about everything. The Azoty Group managed to create a new association in Brussels, which organized a strong blocking force in the Council, which is also significantly complicating actions taken by the EC and pro-environmental states in the European Parliament.

Our government and many MEPs and their advisors, not only from Poland, are supporting us. This means we’ve achieved a lot. I cannot say if we will succeed in the end, but I am sure we did more for the cause than our opponents expected last year, when the EC proposed the limits. We will follow our strategy to the very end.

Interview by Bartłomiej Sawicki