All Plant Biostimulants deserve access to the Single Market


EU Fertilising Products Regulation (2019/1009) represents a huge step forward for plant biostimulants. For the first time, EU law recognises biostimulants, and there is a common definition across all the Member States. This is a huge step forward for both producers of biostimulants and the farmer who will gain access to a broader range of products.

In principle, any plant biostimulant that meets the demanding safety requirements of Regulation (EU) 2019/1009 should be able to placed on the Single Market as an “EU Plant Biostimulant”. In practice this is not yet the case.

The list of microorganisms allowed to be included in EU Plant Biostimulants only contains four genera, which are the oldest and least innovative microorganisms on the market. Today they represent only a small portion of biostimulant products being sold and an even smaller portion of the microorganisms currently being screened and developed for future products. Today, it is not clear whether the Fertilising Products Regulation is compatible with the innovative microbial biostimulants that companies are developing to meet farmers’ challenges related to better nutrient use, resilience in the face of climate change and ensuring high quality produce. [1]

Overly restrictive language on polymers currently excludes many hydrolysed proteins and other natural polymers from EU Plant Biostimulants, although those “naturally occurring polymers” – from plant and animal sources – are considered by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) to be inherently biodegradable. They are also allowed to be used in organic farming under EU regulations[2], so their exclusion from the Fertilising Products Regulation seems incoherent. [3] Some plant-based natural polymers may be allowed under Component Material Category (CMC) 2 “Plants, Plant Parts or Plant Extracts” but this category does not allow for hydrolysis nor chemical extraction and the resulting substances would not be eligible for CMC 1 “Virgin Material Substances and Mixtures” due to its exclusion of polymers (and no provisions for the exclusions and derogations that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) accords to natural polymers under the REACH chemical regulation [4] and ECHA’s recently proposed restrictions on microplastics [5].

It may be possible for hydrolysed proteins from animal origin to be allowed in EU Fertilising Products, depending on the end-points defined in CMC 10. However, we do not yet know which end points will be defined.

Many of the substances used in Plant Biostimulants are derived from by-products from others industries like food processing, botanical pharmaceuticals, paper-making or even the petroleum industry. The use of by-products as raw materials is one way that the sector contributes to the Circular Economy. Because so many by-products from other value chains are used to make biostimulants, EBIC and its member companies are particularly keen that the yet-to-be-developed criteria governing the use of Industrial By-Products as components of fertilising products under the new regulation allow as many safe by products as possible to be used. [6]

Finally, it is important that any safe and effective plant biostimulant should be allowed to be placed on the market, including products that may share some components with products with non-biostimulants effects. It is the final product, not isolated components that define function. In particular, the prohibition to intentionally add phosphonate to EU fertilising products (regardless of product function, application rate or other factors) is problematic; it cannot be justified on safety grounds and ignores the growing body of science about the effectiveness of plant biostimulants containing phosphite. [7] (Phosphite and phosphonate cycle back and forth between the two chemical forms, so it is impossible to have one without the other in a non-stabilized form.)