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Organic in Spain: Standards against artificial fertilizers

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Tiger Nut Beet in Spain
Tiger Nut Beet in Spain. Does the new standard protect against overfertilization in organic farming? © Isabel Rodenas / shutterstock

The reports on the use of artificial fertilizers for Spanish organic vegetables have provoked a reaction. CAAE, Spain’s largest certification body, wants to only certify fertilizers that meet a Spanish standard for organic horticulture farms. But is that enough?

CAAE announced that it will not accept any other certification of organic fertilizers but the public and accredited Spanish UNE standard. This is intended to make the Spanish organic sector more transparent and safer. Farmers will still have time to adapt to the change during 2020. Starting 2021, CAAE certifiers will only accept organic fertilizers certified to UNE standards.

Detailed instructions are a step forward

UNE is the official Spanish standards organization, comparable to DIN in Germany. There are three UNE standards for organic farm inputs, one of which concerns fertilizers. has asked Albrecht Benzing, Managing Director of the internationally active German organic inspection body CERES to evaluate this standard. Benzing had already criticized the lax handling of fertilizers by Spanish inspection bodies in the German newspaper taz last November. He sees the commitment to the UNE standard as a step forward, because “it gives very detailed instructions”. However, he also has decisive objections, saying that he has not found a single word in the 40-page standard on the plausibility of nutrient concentration.

With the permitted organic fertilizers, only certain nitrogen concentrations can be reached for example. Values that exceed these are clear evidence that artificial fertilizers have been added. If this is disregarded, “even the most beautiful standard is of no use”, warns Benzing. He fears that fraud will continue to occur, even if the certificates are cleaner now.

“Conventional resources are simply substituted”

A further criticism of Benzing is that raw phosphate permitted in organic farming is almost insoluble in water. If a liquid fertilizer contains phosphate, it most likely origins from water-soluble artificial fertilizers. But the UNE standard lacks the indication that certain fertilizers should not be possible in liquid form, says Benzing. His most fundamental objection is that the standard omits the, in his opinion, most important principle that fertilization in organic farming should be carried out through own animal husbandry, composting, green manure and crop rotation while everything else should only be added to this. The standard thus fits into the “understanding of organic farming, which can be increasingly observed in many places, where conventional inputs are simply substituted by others”.


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