I think it's quite odd (and again, sorry if someone's made this
observation) that organic farmers are being urged to legitimize sludge
when even conventional farmers don't want to touch it. Sounds
back-asswards to me. :-\
At 03:31 PM 11/14/98 -0500, Frank Teuton wrote:
Comments about the 'demon sludge' resonate also in the question about
pesticides in manures. Not only are pesticides applied to manures as
vector controls, the parasiticides and antibiotics are carried through
the animals and into the manures also.
One view of synthetic chemicals in manures, which also is applied to
heavy metals, is the doctrine of "absolution in the compost pile", i.e,
the view that the highly active microbial conditions in proper composting
cause all (or most) evil materials to be deconstructed and reformed into
harmless humified matter.
Some say this applies also in soils; that good microbial activity will
break down or neutralize 'most any toxin'. And yet, those in the
'bioremediation biz' insist that things are not so simple; that it
requires careful monitoring and perhaps even special cultures to achieve
the blessed 'none detected' reading back from the lab...
It seems obvious to me that the debate about sludge in organic
agriculture extends also to animal manures, although the manures being
the product of more controlled conditions should be more predictable and
If organic is to be a prevailing standard of agriculture, occupying an
increasing percentage of the marketplace, then more and more acres must
come under organic production; if not then it matters little whether
sludge or chemicalized manures are accepted, since organics will only
occupy a small percentage of total acreage and 'conventional' agriculture
the lion's share of the land...
It has been suggested that 'model' systems be put in place where human
wastes and clean compostables are source-separated and kept apart from
chemical/industrial waste streams. This should indeed be done.
There is a long history of problems with sludge and it will be some time
before the weight of that history can be shrugged off. It would be very
nice if the organic movement could find a way to use its symbolic power
to dangle the carrot of organic acceptance to clean sludge streams;
however, the only way I can see that happening is to have a multi-tier
set of organic categories; indeed, the biggest problem I see with the
National organic standards is their proposed monolithic character, and
the necessity of everyone operating under one standard which many people
both domestically and internationally find inadequate.
I do think it would be a step forward if an open national standard were
established as a baseline, while allowing stricter standards by private
sector certification organizations. That way, Demeter certification or
OCIA certification would automatically include a USDA-Organic guarantee,
as well as whatever other assurances they entail, and the door would be
open for other certifications like Veganic-Organic or whatever. Any
certifications would have to be at least as strict as USDA-Organic but
could include other criteria like the use of special preparations or the
avoidance of slaughterhouse and other animal wastes, etc.
USDA-Organic could include Clean-Stream Sludge as an acceptable material,
while I would imagine the established certification organizations would
probably hold off on accepting it while closely monitoring quality and
consumer acceptance. The existence of several tiers of organic labels
would allow the consumer to choose intelligently between different
standards according to their views; what could be more American than
Meanwhile, those in the composting community who feel they can indeed
turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, and 'bioremediate' everything from
pesticides to pressure-treated wood, have a major burden of proof to
meet, and a lot of fundamental education to do, to get their products
accepted. Maybe some day they will succeed in convincing the agricultural
community generally, and especially the skeptics within the organic
community, that they really have mastered the art of turning contaminated
feedstocks into good clean humus. Until then I will consider sludges and
manures and composts made with them to be at least somewhat suspect.
BTW, more than thirty years ago my grandfather, a USDA agronomist, had a
load of sludge delivered at his home for use on his lawn. After the
cherry tomatoes were weeded out, all appeared well; later, he was warned
by colleagues at USDA that there were high heavy metals in the sludge,
and so there were no more sludge applications.
This is the kind of sludge story that still dogs the sludge issue.
People have long memories and it takes a lot more than accusing the
organic movement of not caring about the carbon cycle to overcome them.
I will say this; sludge in a landfill may be N, P and K wasted, but we'd
have to put alot of Carbon-rich sludge back into the earth to make up for
all the petroleum, coal and natural gas we're pumping out of her.
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