This is a really good discussion, and the issues are far from simple. I did
some research into biosolids in the course of working on the USDA
proposed rule on organics, and also worked with the NOSB Crops
Committee in developing their recommendations. One thing that should
be clarified is that the proposed rule did not, in either its "draft" form sent
to OMB in June of 1997 or the one that got published, allow for the use
of biosolids in organic agriculture. The only change that was made by
OMB was to insert a request for public comment about it.
There was no explicit prohibition against biosolids in the proposed rule
either, primarily because of the complexity of the question and
understanding that use of human waste can, if not combined with all the
rest of the industrial waste stream, be beneficial. In fact, I personally live
with a composting toilet, the contents of which I consider extremely
What we did was to consider biosolids to be a synthetic product, which
would have to appear on the National List in order to be allowed to be
used by organic producers. The NOSB recommended against placing
biosolids on the National List, and USDA agreed with that
My own opinion, based on the hope that it is theoretically possible for a
truly "clean" biosolid product to exist (other than in individual
households), is that because each product would be unique in its
composition it would have to be individually evaluated and accepted for
use as a an organic fertilizer. The information I have learned convinces
me that there could and should be no blanket allowance for "biosolids" in
organic agriculture (not just because of public opinion, but because of
the scientific evidence).
Alas, the only real solution to the problem is along the lines described by
Joel Gruver. At the very least, waste streams must be separated so
that industrial wastes do not comingle with human sewage, but this will
still not solve the problem of flushing household toxics. I might add that
this is quite different from livestock medications and other nasty things
(other than pathogens, a whole other story) that are found in
conventional livestock manure--virtually all of which will decompose
under proper composting.
Ultimately, we all need to take much more responsibility for dealing with
our own you-know-what.
USDA National Organic Program Staff
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