E coli and certified organic production -
Dennis Avery and Henry Miller accuse organic produce of being unsafe
because of irresponsible use of manure. They obviously do not know what
practices are used by certified organic farmers - or they are
deliberately overlooking the truth.
When discussing the potential of E coli for contamination of organic
food, it is essential to consider how current organic standards require
certified organic producers to handle manure as a fertility amendment.
It is obvious that under organic standards, raw manure can NEVER be
applied in such a way that it is in contact with food soon destined for
human consumption. Raw manure, especially if it is anaerobic, is not
really considered a good organic input, since it has the potential of
increasing weed pressure, nutrient loss due to runoff, and for
potentially having deliterious effects on microbial soil life. The
standards reflect this caution, and most certified organic farmers know
this far better than the critics who accuse us of using raw manure.
Diversified family farms generally have a far better system to handle
manure wisely than do huge factory-style animal facilities that produce
vast quantities of anaerobically digested manure. To accuse organic
farmers of using the same techniques of manure disposal is highly
On conventional farms, and on imported produce, there are no such
controls in the use of raw manure.
OCIA 1999 Standards concerning manure use:
Raw Animal Manure - Must be aerobically composted, preferably by turning
and keeping moist and warm until well broken down. Raw manures are
considered restricted materials. Raw manure can be harmful to soil life
and cause unhealthy levels of nitrates in produce and salt buildup in
soils. Can also contain pesticide residues depending on what the animal
has been eating. Composting is strongly recommended since it can
stabilize the nitrogen content, kill weed seeds, and help neutralize
pesticide residues. Fresh and sheet composted manures are allowed only
in MODERATE amounts and as a supplement to other soil building practices.
Please be careful when applying to crops which can accumulate nitrates
such as leafy greens, radishes and beets. Uncomposted manure that has
been turned and free of internal frost for at least siz month prior to
application is permitted.
Fresh, aerated, anaerobic or sheet composted manures are permitted on
perennials or crops not for human consumption or when the crop for human
consumption is not to be harvested for at least four months following the
application. At application, the soil must be sufficiently warm (about
10C) and moist to ensure active microbial digestion. On radishes, leafy
gressn, the beet family and other known nitrate accumulators, fresh,
aerated, anaerobic or sheet composted manures many not be applied less
than four months before planting and the soil must be sufficiently warm
and moist to enxsure active microbial digestion. All manure sources and
management techniques must be clearly documented as part of the
The Second Version of the National Organic Program, released 3/8/00
(1) Raw animal manure, which must be composted unless it is:
(i) Applied to land used for a crop not intended for human consumption;
(ii) Incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the
harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with the
soil surface or soil particles; or
(iii) Incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the
harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact
with the soil surface or soil particles;
It is important to let people know, when discussing this issue, what is
required on certified organic farms, and why the accusations leveled at
organic food are not true when speaking about certified organic produce.
It is obvious that the harshest critics of organic farming know nothing
about certified organic farming methods, or are deliberately trying to
mislead the public.
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