Work to implement an EU-wide soil health law will not be completed until the next parliament, due to numerous amendments from committee members, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) director of European affairs, Liam MacHale.

The European Commission published its proposal for the first-ever EU legislation on soil quality in July 2023.

The ‘Directive on Soil Monitoring and Resilience’, was introduced as an aim to restore EU soil health by 2050.

The directive would initially focus on setting up soil monitoring framework and assessing the situation throughout the EU.

MacHale spoke at the IFA annual general meeting (AGM) yesterday (Tuesday, January 9).

He said that there have been 700 amendments from the agricultural committee, and a further 700 from the environment committee on the proposed law, which are all being reviewed.

He said that there are “a couple of votes” still to come within the agricultural environment committees, going on to plenary on whether certification for soil health should be voluntary.

Soil health

The commission proposed that member states establish “soil districts” to monitor and assess soil health.

“What the commissioner is saying is that if soil health fails on one criteria, then everything fails.

“Even if the soil criteria for the land passes at nine out of 10, if there’s one that it doesn’t pass, then that soil is deemed to be unhealthy,” MacHale said.

“The council doesn’t support that. We certainly don’t support it and the parliament doesn’t support it.

“What we are saying is that you need to have political governance over any zoning that you have for soil health, because if they don’t match up, we don’t believe it will be implemented properly,” MacHale added.

He said this ongoing debate would need to be discussed in trialogues.

Up to 70% of EU soils are classed as being “in a poor state”, while over 80% of them contain pesticide residues.

The European Parliament voted to reject a European Commission proposal for tighter regulation of pesticides in 2023.

MacHale said that following on from that vote, the Belgian presidency can take a version of the proposal back to Parliament to be voted on again.

Nature restoration

MacHale also provided an update at the AGM for the Nature Restoration Law.

He reminded farmers of the “emergency backstop” for agriculture if food security is threatened by nature restoration.

The nitrates directive review is taking place this year through the consultation period, which has already opened and closes on March 8.

The commission are determining whether the directive is “fit for purpose”.

If the directive is deemed not fit for purpose, then there will be potential for the commission proposal to be reviewed or amended.

At the moment there are 49 replies to the review, and MacHale encouraged farmers to submit responses.