The EESC welcomes this proposed regulation as a useful addition in realising the intentions of the Water Framework Directive and also as contributing to the Circular Economy Package. It will encourage existing water resources to be used more sustainably and increase consumer confidence in the safety of those agricultural products affected.
At present consumers are unaware of the varying standards on water reuse and many are unaware that reclaimed water is widely used in irrigation. As this regulation provides for a consistent approach based on strong scientific advice, it can be seen as a necessary foundation block in food safety policy.
Contrary to the impression created by the general title of the regulation, the actual substance of the proposal is tightly focussed on the reuse of urban waste water for irrigation purposes. It is recommended that, although this is mentioned in the exploratory memorandum to the regulation, greater prominence is given to this focus to minimise concerns that industrial and domestic reuse opportunities are being ignored.
The potential of water reuse for aquifer recharge, although not the object of the regulation, remains of interest and further technical analysis should be undertaken to resolve the complex problems identified in the impact assessment.
The Committee strongly recommends that, for this regulation to have its maximum intended impact, effective policing of water resources and an active accountability and enforcement regime needs to be followed in all Member States. In particular, the enforcement of prohibitions on illegal water extraction needs to be applied more consistently.
Although impacts on competition with imports from third countries are expected to be neutral, the EESC urges the Commission to take this opportunity to use this development of standards at EU level, in conjunction with the European Food Safety Authority, to reinforce the stance in international standard-setting discussions on water reuse so imports from third countries are also compliant. The EESC has regularly argued for consistency in international agricultural standards and this regulation can set a global benchmark for water reuse.