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Soil health: European Court of Auditors "rod" EU and Member States

60-70% of the land would be unhealthy, also due to inadequacy of management practices

On soil health, the European Commission and member countries have never done enough. The warning comes from the European Court of Auditors, just a few days after the new package of measures ordered by the Commission itself.

According to the auditors of the Court, "EU rules often lack ambition and Member States do not focus funding on areas with the most pressing soil problems". The report follows an analysis which found that '60-70% of soils in Europe are unhealthy, partly due to inadequate soil and manure management practices'.

In addition to hosting plants, the soil is a source of nutrients, water and oxygen for their growth. However, "the abuse of fertilizers in agriculture has a negative impact on water quality and on animal and plant diversity", underlines the Court. EU legislation, such as that governing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Nitrates Directive, promotes improvements in soil and manure management. According to the Court's best estimate, CAP funding for soil health between 2014 and 2020 amounted to around €85 billion, while the Nitrates Directive sets a limit on the use of nitrogen from organic animal manure in polluted areas.

“Soil plays an essential role for life and is a non-renewable resource,” said Eva Lindström, the Member of the Court responsible for the report. “In Europe, however, the soil is not healthy over large areas. This is a cry of alarm: it's time for the EU to roll up its sleeves and bring our lands back to a satisfactory state of health. We cannot turn our backs on future generations. The forthcoming changes to EU law offer EU lawmakers the opportunity to raise land standards across Europe.

We found that the EU's tool for getting farmers to comply with environmental conditions ('cross compliance') has the potential to address threats to soil, as the relevant rules apply to 85% of the agricultural area. Yet these conditions, which farmers must meet in order to receive payments under the CAP, do not go far enough. The requirements that EU countries place in relation to the soil involve very little change to agronomic practices and can make only a marginal improvement in soil health. Despite some improvements introduced for the 2023-2027 period, the changes implemented so far in some Member States are insufficient and can only have a modest impact on sustainable soil and manure management.

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EFA News - European Food Agency