First of all, Chilean nitrate is not "natural geological deposit" but
rather the bird guano collected from islands off the coast of Chile. It is
so concentrated that its primary use was in the fabrication of gunpowder,
until the First World War, when, threatened with being cut off from its
"natural" source, Germany invented the Haber process to fix nitrogen from
the air (the basis of the synthetic fertilizer industry).
Secondly, I don't know of any organic certifier that has a "a default
allowance for natural
substances along with a default rejection of synthetic substances." This
is ridiculous. Organic certifiers evaluate substances in terms of their
effects on natural agroecosystem processes or on the quality of the food
produced. Some synthetic substances are allowed and some "natural"
substances,as you note, are banned. Among the latter is Chilean nitrates.
As Loren states, their effect on the soil is virtually the same as
synthetic sodium nitrate--e.g. negative for soil microbiology in general
and negative for the environment due to excess N runoff. I am not aware of
the "20% rule". IFOAM carried out a study on the reasons for the ban and
has a publication explaining this in detail.
>Date: Mon, 17 May 1999 08:14:09 -0700
>From: Loren Muldowney <firstname.lastname@example.org.EDU>
>Subject: Re: question: sodium nitrate
>Rob Fetter wrote:
>> I need some info on sodium nitrate (aka Chilean nitrate). I notice it's
>> allowed by some organic certification programs and prohibited by others.
>> When certifiers prohibit it, they cite that it has no long-term positive
>> effects on soil building (unlike some other fertilizers) and has high
>> sodium content, which is generally bad. Why, then, is it allowed in some
>> organic programs? What are the particular advantages sodium nitrate
>Rob, I am not an organic certifier. Nevertheless, I think my response
>is correct. "Chilean nitrate" is a natural geologic deposit, mined and
>used in an unrefined condition. Therefore it is "natural" and some
>organic certifiers historically have a default allowance for natural
>substances along with a default rejection of synthetic substances.
>Other certifiers have refined their system and will disallow natural
>stuff for reasons which fit certain criteria. So nicotine and
>strychnine are disallowed by some because of their toxicity, and nuts to
>their being natural.
>Long term use of chilean nitrate would have the same negative soil
>effects as long term use of a synthetic sodium nitrate, so many
>certifiers have phased it out and others restrict its use to 20% of the
>nitrogen requirement of the crop or other schemes. All are dealing with
>the fact that while it is natural, it isn't so good in the long term.
>I don't personally know anyone who uses it.
>best regards from NJ,
>> T. Robert Fetter
>> Research Assistant
>> Dept. of Resource Economics
>> Draper Hall
>> University of Massachusetts
>> Amherst, MA 01003
>> phone 413-545-5716
>> fax 413-545-5853
Mexico, D.F. & San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas
Tel. y FAX 525-666-73-66 (DF)
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