Re: national organic standards
Thu, 12 Nov 98 09:23:37 CST
There has been a lot of USDA-bashing over these impending
national standards for organic production. As a current
USDA employee and still idealist, I want to discuss one of
the contentious "big three" issues holding back the
I understand that in most metropolitan areas the sewage
sludge is contaminated with heavy metals and other dangerous
chemicals that can be taken up by crops and/or build up in
the soil to toxic levels and/or may cause chronic health
problems even at non-toxic levels. We have to keep tabs on
these contaminants, and work to reduce their [industrial]
inflow into the stream of municipal waste.
BUT if one of the reasons behind organic farming is
protecting the environment, THE CARBON CYCLE MUST BE CLOSED.
We hear a lot about nitrogen and phospohrus abuse and
pollution, but let's not forget carbon. Where is the carbon
coming from, going, and how tight are the cycles?
Non-sustainable agricultural methods have had a great effect
on carbon abuse and pollution: reducing the amount of carbon
that is stable/sequestered in the soil and vegetation, and
increasing the atmospheric CO2 level. Yes, a lot of C is
fixed in photosynthesis, but agricultural soils worldwide
have lost more carbon than they have gained. This not only
leads to atmospheric and water carbon pollution, but reduces
the fertility, structural and biological quality of the
soil. The soils are being mined of carbon through intensive
farming and tillage (and there is often more cultivation on
organic farms for weed control).
The end products from soil mining and photosynthesis are
crops, crop stovers, CO2, animal biomass, and poo. Much of
this carbon ends up as sewage sludge. The bulk of this
sludge is high-nitrogen, micronutrient-rich organic
material. It is great organic fertilizer that can build
soil organic matter. This material is tested not only for
its nutrient content, but also for levels of heavy metals
and other dangerous contaminants. I do think that the
organic movement should be able to set higher standards for
the [lower] levels of these contaminants and the use level
for sludges, and I do support the composting of all wastes
to better stabilize the carbon...
There are many sub-issues here...
I simply do not see that the organic movement is SUSTAINABLE
if it allows and indeed forces the disposal of huge amounts
of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc. as garbage. The less
sludge is valued, the more it will be wasted: landfilled and
(God forbid) dumped into oceans and waterways. Why don't we
make this sludge a more valuable resource by demanding
source separation of industrial inputs from municipal inputs
and/or biological/chemical/engineering solutions for removal
of the toxins. We are throwing out the baby with the
If the organic movement also wants to be a sustainable
movement, it should not force the disposal of sludge as
waste, but promote its value as a resource and work to
improve its value. Instead of denying farmers the use of
sludge as an organic fertilizer and demonizing the USDA,
demand that the USDA work toward a goal that would benefit
everyone: to make sewage sludges into materials that ARE an
appropriate and valued resource for any farm.
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