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European Commission proposes first ever Soil Quality Law

Legislation setting standards for soil health, similar to air and water quality regulations, was a key demand of the Environment Action Programme as negotiated by Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan. 

The European Commission today (5 July) set out its proposal for a ‘Directive on Soil Monitoring and Resilience’, which aims to restore EU soil health by 2050. The proposal for the first-ever EU legislation on soils provides a harmonised definition of soil health, puts in place a comprehensive and coherent monitoring framework and fosters sustainable soil management and remediation of contaminated sites. The EU estimates that up to 60% of soils are in unfavourable or poor condition, and that over €50bn a year is lost to soil degradation. 

In Ireland, the main challenges to soil health relate to urbanisation, land use changes to peatlands and forestry, and agricultural runoff. There is currently no specific contaminated land policy in Ireland and no legislation in place to deal with it. Once the legislation is finalised, countries like Ireland will have to identify and clean up an estimated 3 million contaminated sites.

Importantly, the proposal does not impose any direct obligations on landowners or farmers.

The proposal comes two years after the EU’s 8th Environment Action Programme (EAP), which was negotiated by Irish MEP Grace O’Sullivan. The EAP committed the EU institution to put forward soil health legislation by a 2023 deadline. 

Speaking from Brussels following the announcement of the European Commission today, Grace O’Sullivan MEP said: “As the basis of our food systems, soil degradation is one of the most important aspects of the overall collapse in healthy natural ecosystems that we have been witnessing for the last few decades as a result of human activity. When I negotiated the EU’s Environment Action targets two years ago, a key demand was an EU-wide framework for the protection and sustainable use of soil, so I am glad to see it finally come to fruition today.” 

The Directive on Soil Monitoring and Resilience will now come before the European Parliament and Council for negotiations. A previous proposal had been made in 2006 but was blocked by a number of Member States. 

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