Fertilizer Legislation

Why fertilizers are registered

The importance of fertilizers for agriculture, and thus for both the national economy and the individual farmer, is such that several countries have introduced as early as the end of the 19th century 5 legislative measures designed to control their production and use.

There are many reasons for this. Fertilizer use is an on-going farming practice, with a major influence on yields and earnings. Small farmers are rarely in a position to examine the quality of a fertilizer, so they have to trust the information supplied by the producer. Given that serious damage can arise from the use of adulterated or incorrect fertilizers, the quality of which cannot in any case be checked after they have been incorporated to the soil, certain means of preventative quality control become necessary. Fertilizer producers have, as a rule, all facilities necessary for controlling both raw materials and product, and they have no need for special protection from the legislator. Such protection is necessary, however for the consumer of fertilizers, and consequently fertilizer production and trade need to be controlled by law.

Initially, when production and consumption of commercial fertilizers were limited to a relatively narrow range of types, the purpose of the legislation was mainly to protect the purchaser from possible fraudulent practices on the part of the manufacturer and dealer. Thus, fertilizers sold under a given name were required to contain specified nutrient elements and, in such percentages, as prescribed by the law (or as declared by the manufacturer himself and accepted by the authorities). Certain variations, within strict limits, were tolerated by law.

Recent scientific and industrial developments in chemistry and agronomy, not to mention commercial competition, have resulted in a multiplication of fertilizer types. This has added a new dimension to the protective role of fertilizer legislation: to provide for the protection of the purchaser against fertilizers which, although they contain the declared elements in the declared percentages, are not suitable for certain soil conditions and for crops. The effective value of some modern fertilizers can be ascertained only after a series of complex and time-consuming experiments, and it is the function of the law to permit the use of these new types only if such experiments have demonstrated their efficacy.

Furthermore, the need arises to guarantee the consumer of agricultural products as high a quality as possible.

Finally, today, when the issue is being discussed in all quarters, protecting the environment from possible polluting effects has become one of the functions of fertilizer legislation.

National fertilizer laws do not always satisfactorily cover all the above-mentioned points. Especially the last one has not yet received sufficient attention, at least not in the main legal texts on the subject. Many developing countries have still not enacted a comprehensive body of legal texts regulating fertilizer production, import or trade. Others still use a legislation bequeathed to them by the former colonial powers, that has ceased to be relevant to the present world situation. It should be borne in mind that the enactment of legislation is the outcome of a strongly felt need in a given national context importation and use of fertilizers is developing from day to day, the need will also be felt in these countries for the introduction of modern laws covering the more recent aspects of fertilizer marketing and use.

Thus, in France, the fertilizer law, still in force, is that of 4 February 1888 as amended by laws of 19 March 1925 and 28 March 1936.

Structure of fertilizer legislation

Fertilizer laws follow a typically linear pattern, from an original enactment of broad scope, drafted in general terms through a succession of texts amending or rendering more specific what has gone before. The lapse of time between one enactment and the next varies, and rarely does one find the whole sequence of legal texts made in the same year.

A long sequence is the most usual approach. Thus, is the Swiss legislation, the sequence starts with a very broad text, the “Federal Act Relative to the Improvement of Agriculture and the Maintenance of the Peasant Population (Agriculture Act) of 3 October 1951, the title of which is self-explanatory; then comes the “Ordinance on Trade in Agricultural Auxiliary Materials” of 4 February 1955, amended by Order of the Federal Council of 3 November 1959, issued pursuant to articles 4 and 70 to 76 of the Agriculture Act which specifically governs trade in agricultural requisites, including fertilizers; finally the section on fertilizers (Livre des Engrais) in the Handbook of Agricultural Auxiliary Materials, promulgated by the Federal Department of Finance of 31 January 1962, as amended on 26 May 1972, deals exclusively with fertilizers, as do also the two Orders of the Federal Council of 10 July 1964 on the constitution of reserves of phosphate and potassium fertilizers. The Egyptian legislation illustrates the opposite case: here a single Act governing trade on fertilizers (enacted on 15 February 1956) was followed by the Enforcement Regulations exactly one month later.

The two examples illustrate extremes of legislative procedure, however the number of texts and the time elapsing between the dates on which they were enacted are matters of little consequence. What is important is the division found in all the countries studied, between a basic legal text, usually called law, Act, Decree, Ordinance etc., and, as it were, a subsidiary legal text, enacted under the first and by virtue of the powers conferred by it. These are the Regulations under the Law, Act, etc.

The first text sets out the legal principles which govern the manufacture, marketing etc. of fertilizers. It prescribes what must be done and institutes penalties for failure to comply with its provisions.

The second type of texts explain how the principles embodied in the first shall be put into practice. These texts include the technical instructions necessary for the enforcement of the basic law and provide the details which cannot be contained in an instrument, the main purpose of which is to establish principles. But, even so, these technical instructions are sometimes rather difficult to incorporate into a legal text. The usual practice is therefore to produce them in annexes to the Regulations. These annexes, or “Schedules” in the English legal terminology are found more and more frequently in recent legislation, not only in Common Law countries, but in Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, and others.

Another difference between the basic text and the Regulations, concerns the matters they cover. The basic text seldom governs only fertilizers. Usually, it regulates the manufacture, importation and sale of other products intended for agriculture. Thus, in El Salvador, the basic text covers chemical and biochemical products for use in crop and animal husbandry; in Belgium, pesticides and requisites for agriculture, horticulture, silviculture and stockbreeding; in France, fertilizers and pesticides; in India, all the essential commodities; in Kenya, fertilizers and animal feedstuffs; in Malawi, fertilizers, farm feeds and remedies; in Italy, all products essential for agriculture; and in the United Kingdom, fertilizers and feeding stuffs. In Egypt, however, in the Federal Republic of Germany and New Zealand, the basic Act covers only the production of, and trade in fertilizers.

Regulations on the other hand tend to be different for each item (fertilizer, feedstuff etc.). In the case of legislation concerning two such items, as for instance in the United Kingdom, different provisions, or different parts of the schedules, or even different schedules have so far set out the technical points relevant to each item.

A further difference between the two sources of Fertilizer Regulations discussed here (Act, Law, Regulations under the Act) is to be noted in the enacting authority. Thus, while the basic law normally emanates from the legislative body (parliament, general assembly, legislative commission, etc) the Regulations are issued by the appropriate executive organ (council or ministers, federal council minister, etc.) of the country.

Content of legislative provisions

As has already been seen, the main reason for the enactment of fertilizer control legislation is the protection of the fertilizer user and through him of the agricultural economy of the nation, which would otherwise have to bear the results of poor agricultural production due to the use of inadequate or the wrong sort of fertilizers. Accordingly, the legislator, having defined fertilizer materials, will concentrate on the control of the various types of products and on guarantees for the purchaser and enforcer.

Thus, the control of the various types of fertilizers offered on the national market is normally achieved either by requiring the registration of the article offered for sale with a government service (usually the Ministry of Agriculture), or by establishing a comprehensive list of registered fertilizers and restricting production and sales to articles contained in that list. The setting of standards of composition, as well as the requirement of a licence for fertilizer manufacturers or sellers, also offers a means of effective control.

The question of guarantees for the purchaser covers the various provisions regarding the packaging and labelling of fertilizers, as well as the statutory statements and other advice notices which the seller must convey to the buyer at the time of the sale. If the farmer is to profit from the new fertilizer varieties, a simple and easily understood description must be given on the container of the contents and their use. Furthermore, the fertilizer offered for sale must really contain the elements which the label indicates, and the containers must be of a material that not only protects the product itself against deterioration due to weather conditions, but also protects the user and the environment against possible harmful effects.

Enforcement takes the form of appointing control officers, authorizing the inspection of premises where fertilizers are stored or offered for sale, and establishing methods of sampling and analysis. Lastly, appropriate penalties are provided to punish the contravention of provisions regulating the above matters.