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Thursday, 12 May 2011 - StrasbourgOJ edition

Question no 35 by Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (H-000175/11 )  
 Subject: Shortage of phosphate-based fertilizers

According to a recently published scientific report entitled ‘A Sustainable Global Society’, supplies of phosphate rock (which is used to produce the principal fertilizers for the cultivation of wheat, rice and maize) could be exhausted within the next 30 years. Australia, the world’s seventh largest wheat producer, is already facing difficulties as a result of markedly diminished phosphorus levels on farmland. The report indicates that investment is necessary to prospect for new phosphate reserves and develop technologies for extracting phosphates from water.

In view of this:

Is any information available regarding world phosphate rock supplies?

What have been the price trends over the last few years for phosphate-based fertilizers prices?

Does the Commission intend to promote research in this area with a view to discovering new sources of this commodity or possible substitutes?


(EN) A number of scientific studies have been published over the last few years on the question of world phosphate rock supplies. Whilst it is true that some of these studies have suggested a thirty year timeline for the remaining stocks, more recent data would seem to indicate greater reserves of phosphate rock, enough to supply current needs for a rather longer period(1) .

However, this more recent data also indicates a significant concentration of these new reserves in one geographical area, raising questions around security of supply. In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that remaining reserves may be associated with increasing levels of cadmium and other heavy metals, thus posing a risk of greater costs required to eliminate these contaminants, or the potential pollution of soil from the use of lower quality fertilisers(2) .

The information on prices available to the Commission indicates a sharp rise in prices of phosphate rock during 2008, followed by a stabilisation and then a more gradual rise in 2010/11.

The Commission has commissioned two studies in the past five years on this subject(3) , as well as supporting research projects which address some aspects of the problem. Further research and innovation actions of relevance could be covered in the future as part of the overall approach to improving the sustainability of agricultural production and food security. There is no indication that it will ever be possible to substitute phosphorus in its essential use in fertilisers and feed supplements. Nor are there any alternative commodities that could replace phosphate rock.

However, information that was presented to the meeting of the Commission expert group on the sustainable use of phosphorus on 17 February 2011 indicates both that there has been a rise in prospecting for new phosphate reserves, and that there is significant potential to use this resource more efficiently. More efficient use would extend the availability of the resource while at the same time reducing environmental problems associated with overuse. Potential actions towards more sustainable use include more efficient prospection and extraction practices; greater processing of by-products; use of biotechnology to improve the efficiency of feed and fertiliser; modification of agricultural techniques to reduce inputs of fertiliser or losses of phosphorus (including better nutrient management planning at farm level); reducing the amount of food going to waste through modifying consumer behaviour and recycling of phosphorus from manure, waste water, sewage sludge and sewage sludge ashes.

The Commission intends to examine further this emerging resource issue within the context of the forthcoming road map on resource efficiency, foreseen for later in 2011.


(1)World Phosphate Reserves, International Fertiliser Development Council, 2010
(2)Sustainable Use of Phosphorus, Schroder, Cordell, Smit and Rosemarin, 2010
(3)Available at

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