Tag Archives: manure

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 www.omri.org. 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: http://lat.ms/eL4Fap).

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. See:www.gotexan.org/HayhotlineHome.aspx.

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: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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Organic practices lessen E. coli threat

 

June 9, 2011

Organic practices lessen threat of disease

The news this week that a deadly outbreak of E. coli bacteria in Germany was from an organic farm raised flags with me, as much for its improbability as for its deadly nature.

Since those first reports, the German government has backed off its claim that an organic farm produced the outbreak.

While it’s possible for any farm – including an organic farm – to have produce infected by the bacterium, and consumers should always wash produce from the grocery, regardless of source, it’s less likely for organic produce for a variety of reasons.

First, the incidence of virulent strains of E. coli is a direct result of conventional (not organic!) farming of beef, where animals are “finished” on corn.

Ruminants are not naturally equipped to digest corn and it leads to bacteria (E. coli among them) being excreted from the gut. When coupled with the common practice of conventional agriculture (not organic!) to feed antibiotics to farm animals, virulent strains resistant to treatment are formed.

These bacterium are found in the manure of conventionally raised farm animals (not certified organic!) and that manure is often used to fertilize crops.

Here is where the possibility of E. coli can enter the organic food train, depending on the producer:

In certified organic vegetable crop production, strict manure handling is required.

Specifically: The U.S. regulations for organic production require that raw animal manure must be composted unless it is applied to land used for a crop not intended for human consumption; or is incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with soil; or is 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. See 7 CFR 205.203 (c)(1) and (2).

Residual hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, disease organisms and other undesirable substances can be eliminated through high-temperature aerobic composting.

So, presumably, E. coli would be eradicated in certified organic crops – if manure is properly composted or incorporated.

Again, I’m not saying it cannot occur, but, for producers of organic crops, the likelihood of transmitting E. coli is much smaller.And, for those (such as in our case, for example) where only composted horse manure or composted grass-fed or organic cow manure is used, not “raw” manure, or from industrial agriculture confined and corn-finished herds, the likelihood drops to virtually zero.

Me? I say: Eat organic, eat local! Know your farmer. Compose your own compost and manures from known – or OMRI verified – sources.

For the home organic gardner: Anyone who is actually growing his or her own food and uses manure would do well to read the book: Holy Sh*t: Managing Manure To Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon (Chelsea Green, 2010, $17.50).

Online: For more on manures, see Organic Trade Association Q&A: http://bit.ly/eW35Gb.

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: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.