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Agriculture is changing at a rapid pace. Consumers increasingly ask for more sustainable procedures and products, while the industry continues to develop innovative technologies. As a result, biostimulants, fertilisers and liming materials have gained a lot of traction. “The European Commission therefore initiated a standardisation process to provide a clear framework for all organisations involved in this new playing field”, says Beata Cebere, Regulatory Affairs Manager at US/Norwegian-based biotech company Agrinos.
Beata Cebere is an active member in the technical committees ‘CEN/TC 455 – Plant biostimulants’ and ‘CEN/TC 260 Fertilisers and liming materials’ by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). Therefore, she experiences the need for harmonised standards first hand. “There’s a lot at stake”, Beata Cebere says. “First of all, we need to ensure agronomic products, such as biostimulants, are safe. Then, if used well, these products can mean a breakthrough for agricultural efficiency and the circular economy. Needless to say, we welcome new experts to share their insights in the national committees that will influence the standardisation process.”
Beata Cebere: “The use of biostimulants is no longer limited to organic production and high-value crops. Also conventional producers have jumped on the bandwagon in response to economic and sustainability demands. Therefore, biostimulants are spreading to a large number of countries, both within Europe and the rest of the world. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the European institutions. After three years of negotiations, they published a new regulation on the matter on 5 June 2019. The EU thus became the first governing body in the world to recognise biostimulants as a distinct category of agricultural inputs – a milestone towards more sustainable agriculture. The only problem is: we don’t have any standards for this category. Or at least, not yet.”
Beata Cebere: “Within CEN/TC 455 we aim to develop a set of over 30 standards that cover topics like sampling procedures, labelling, denomination, safety requirements and testing methods to verify product claims for biostimulants. The content of these standards will be very important for the free movement of goods in the common market and the improvement of agriculture in general. Moreover, it will boost the circular economy. Increasing system resilience and reusing raw materials that are now disposed as waste are two of the key principles of the European circular economy policy, but diverging national rules and standards make it difficult for producers of organic fertilisers to sell and use them across the EU single market. That’s about to change.”
Beata Cebere: “The standardisation request has been submitted. When approved, it will take about 36 months to elaborate the standards. First, as a Technical Specification – publication expected on 1 January 2022 – and later as Standard – publication expected on 1 January 2024. Afterwards, all participating countries will need to adopt the standards: the EU countries, the four members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Turkey.”
Beata Cebere: “Exactly. Some standards will even be the same as the ones for biostimulants, such as safety requirements for heavy metals and disease causing pathogens. Therefore, both committees plan to work closely together. Also, the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) is actively involved in both development processes, because chances are high that these new European standards will form the basis for future ISO standards.”
The new European standards for plant biostimulants and fertilisers might influence future ISO standards.
Beata Cebere: “We distinguish four groups. First, the consumers: from farmers to end-users. For example, farmers will get a better return on investment from fertilisers and biostimulants, while reducing nutrient losses. End-users, on the other hand, will get more guarantees about minimum environmental impact of agricultural activities. Also the industry itself will benefit from harmonised standards. Organisations will be able to check whether internal and different legal requirements that exist in other countries are fulfilled. That’s one of the reasons why the European Biostimulant Industry Council is (EBIC) active in standardisation committee ‘CEN/TC 455 – Plant biostimulants’. A third group that will reap the benefits of our work are the official and private auditing and control bodies, who will get a strong framework. And finally, also the European Commission’s policy on a single market and entrepreneurship will gain more confidence.”
Beata Cebere: “We’re welcoming all kinds of experts, because we’re really pioneering in this field and many actors will be affected. That way, we try to ensure a balance of all interested parties. The CEN national members, such as NBN for Belgium, are entitled to nominate delegates to technical committees and experts to workgroups by CEN. Some of them will also organise national standards committees that are open to all stakeholders. Members of those national committees will receive work documents and can also vote on possible inquiries.”
Beata Cebere: “They can weigh in on best practices that will set the future for biostimulants and fertilisers, thus defending the interests of their organisations. But for me, the biggest advantage of participating in these committees is the knowledge and know-how we accumulate. By interacting with other experts, I keep on learning myself. Public, private, academic and non-governmental organisations all have different insights and backgrounds, but by uniting forces we can make a difference that benefits everybody.”
Beata Cebere is Regulatory Affairs Manager at US/Norwegian-based biotechnology company Agrinos, working from Belgium. She has a demonstrated history of working in the biotechnology industry and offers strong professional skills in Chemistry, ISO 14001, Environmental Compliance, Chemical Engineering and Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS).