Delayed EU phosphorus plans coming soon

March 11, 2013 at 12:05 AM
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BRUSSELS, March 11 (UPI) -- A delayed strategy to preserve and recycle scarce phosphorus resources will be coming soon, the European Union's environment commissioner says.

European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik told the First European Sustainable Phosphorus Conference in Brussels Thursday a long-sought "green paper" on how the European Union proposes to cut waste and inefficiency in the use of the agriculturally vital mineral -- originally set to published last year -- is on its way.

"I hope to present a green paper on the issue in the coming months," Potocnik said.

The assurance came after a published report indicated the phosphorus measure is being held up by a key aide to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Potocnik is seeking to establish an EU-wide market for recycled phosphorus as a way to end the endemic over-application of the increasingly expensive mineral fertilizer, which European farmers must now import from North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.

"We should aim to have a market across the EU for the different forms of recycled phosphorus," he said. "We should aim for precision farming techniques to become standard across many different types of agriculture. We should aim to be using much more of this resource that is available to us in the EU."

But sources told the British environmental news website ENDS Europe that commission Secretary-General Catherine Day is pressuring Potocnik to delay the green paper, which would serve as a starting point for policy formulations.

The disagreement reportedly centers on Day's belief that the commission's work should be focused solely on economic growth and the eurozone crisis.

"The focus is on the economy and jobs. Other things can wait," the source said.

Under the commission's governance system, the secretary-general can effectively block proposals from any of its branches by preventing them from being put to broader consultation, the website reported.

Potocnik has an ally in the Netherlands, which is pressing for the immediate publication of the phosphorous green paper.

Dutch agricultural planners have taken measures to "close the phosphate cycle," in which they have invested in recovering phosphate from sewage, sludge and municipal organic waste and manure to be processed into products such as fertilizers and soil improvers substitutes.

The result, they say, is less waste, less use of fertilizer and cleaner surface water.

Worldwide demand for phosphorus is quickly rising but its production is limited to handful of countries, including Morocco, the United States, China and Russia.

The European Union imports nearly all of its raw phosphorus materials and has almost no reserves, while the United States used up nearly all its reserves and has stopped exporting phosphate rock, and China has effectively stopped export by introducing a 200 percent export tax.

As a result, Europe is to a large extent dependent on phosphorus from Morocco.

The fertilizer also causes environmental problems because of its inefficient use -- only a one-fifth of the 16 million tons of phosphorus is used for human nutrition while most runs off into rivers, lakes and oceans.

There it triggers the growth of algae, which depletes oxygen supplies needed by fish and other forms of aquatic life.

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