Antibiotics in food not an ‘organic’ problem

Sept. 15, 2011

Antibiotics in food a ‘conventional,’ not organic, problem

Now that you’re diligently planting your fall garden, the question arises: How do I fertilize it in an organic way?

The easiest way is to use compost. That’s simply allowing vegetable table scraps, and other natural materials such as grass clippings, old coffee grounds and filters and egg shells to decompose, then applying them.

This rich material spread 1/4 inch deep on top of the soil, or used as a dressing for each plant, goes a long way.

In addition, you can use purchased materials such as nitrogen-rich organic fish emulsion or kelp meal, or blood meal. All are sold in local garden supply stores.

What you put into the soil results in the quality of what you pull out of the soil as food.

Reader response: I thought that it’s not OK to use commercial bagged manure because it has antibiotics in it from industrial agriculture and CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).

Some inputs are not suitable for “organic” use, while they may be widespread in “conventional” agriculture. All manures for organic crops must be composted.

Additionally, some certifying agencies recommend against using poultry litter because it contains arsenic from feed.

You can look up brand names of sold manures to see if they comply with the National Organic Program at They do not contain pesticides, hormones or synthetic chemicals.

Astoundingly, some obviously ignorant people have called organic unsafe for using manure when only organic farmers are regulated for safety in using manure while “conventional” agriculture is not.

The USDA announced Monday that it would begin testing pork for antibiotics. It’s a good first step, along with its plans to begin testing ground beef and beef scraps for six E. coli varieties.

Of course, this ruling dances around the central question of what is causing disease outbreaks. It’s not the E. coli, which is a natural bacterium, but factory farming that’s the culprit.

These pathogens are in the colon of cattle that when fed corn in feedlots and CAFOs are multiplied in number and virulence. When cattle are grassfed and finished (not corn), both E. coli numbers and acid resistance (ability to sicken humans) diminish.

“Conventional” agriculture: Certainly, antibiotic use in “conventional” agriculture should be sharply curtailed from the standpoint of public safety.

In a recent study, almost half of meat in groceries sampled was found to have drug-resistant bacteria – with CAFOs the suspected source (The Los Angeles Times, April 15:

Regarding contaminants in soil from CAFO manures and other sources: Pharmaceuticals in the Environment: Sources, Fate, Effects and Risks by Klaus KŸmmerer (Springer, 2004) says chemicals in human sewer sludge (used in some “conventional” agriculture, euphemistically called “wastewater residuals” and “biosolids”) are the most long lasting in soil and water, and can persist for years, followed by swine runoff.

Drugs and chemicals in beef appear to be the most short-lived, dissipating within days or weeks.

Tested tetracyclines in chicken waste dissipated at varying rates, in as little as 30 days, with an average of 180 days.

Oxytetracycline in fish farm sediment generally lasted 120 days.

Organic standards call for a three-year moratorium on fields that have been used for conventional agriculture before they can be used for organic farm production.

Online: Farmers can sell or donate hay for farmers in Texas to help them feed their livestock during historic drought conditions.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit

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