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Nutrient supply to organic agriculture as governed by EU regulations and standards in six European countries

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Julia Cooper


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© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. Organic farming systems need to replace nutrients exported via farm products, especially phosphorus (P) which may otherwise become depleted in soil in the long term. In Europe, EU regulations for organic production are shaping the farming systems with respect to inputs of nutrients. Permitted off-farm P sources include conventional animal manure, composted or anaerobically digested organic residues, rock phosphate, and some animal residues such as meat and bone meal. The recent proposed revision of EU regulations for organic production (2014) puts less emphasis on closing nutrient cycles and instead aims at minimizing off-farm inputs, to reduce the risk of importing contaminants. This development, which has received little attention from the organic sector so far, is explained here. The paper further explores the regulatory conditions that govern the P supply to organic agriculture in six European countries: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, and Switzerland. Organic farmers are subject to substantial variation in standards arising from the interpretation of EU regulations into national laws, restrictions imposed by private actors such as retailers, and private standards which may be stricter than EU regulations. In several countries, the majority of organic farmers are certified by private, stricter standards. We propose that EU regulations and private standards for organic production should not limit the use of recycled fertilizers in organic farming systems, as long as means are taken to ensure the quality and safety of these inputs. Awareness of the need to close nutrient cycles may contribute to adapting regulations and private standards to support recycling of nutrients from society to organic agriculture. A better definition of the term “natural substance” in organic regulations is required.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Loes A-K, Bunemann EK, Cooper J, Hortenhuber S, Magid J, Oberson A, Moller K

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Organic Agriculture

Year: 2017

Volume: 7

Issue: 4

Pages: 395-418

Print publication date: 01/12/2017

Online publication date: 29/08/2016

Acceptance date: 15/08/2016

ISSN (print): 1879-4238

ISSN (electronic): 1879-4246

Publisher: Springer Netherlands


DOI: 10.1007/s13165-016-0165-3


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