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Manure image courtesy of Shutterstock

If the FDA’s proposed food safety regulations go through, the use of animal manure on farms over a certain size, or which supply food to supermarkets, will be severely limited. According to this NPR story (and I am sure it has appeared in other news outlets), when farmers spread raw manure on a field, they won’t be allowed to harvest any crops—that can be eaten raw—from that field for the next nine months. So there goes the growing season. The rules make an exception for composted manure, which seemed to me to be a good alternative, but the farmer in the story, who buys tons of manure from a nearby turkey farm, had objections because that would add greatly to his costs. And we all know what sort of profit margins (if any) farmers look at.

These regulations are arising, in part, from recent instances of e coli poisoning (which have been traced even to organic farms), although the cause was not manure used as fertilizer—at least in the one example cited here. As always, however, the “better safe than sorry” thinking that prevails at the federal regulatory level—and who’s to say this is always a bad thing—means that anything that may contain the targeted microbes is a suspect, and that includes manure.

It does seem kind of crazy, though. This is has been the sensible way to grow crops for centuries. Animals eat nutritious grains and vegetables and return that nutrition to the earth, so the earth remains fertile. As one commenter to the NPR story said, I am inclined to agree that this may be “well-intentioned but myopic regulatory activity.”

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on November 21, 2013 at 9:38 am, in the category Eat This, Ministry of Controversy.

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  1. Rebecca Caley

    1st January 1970 at 4:00 am

    What if a big bird flies over and drops some?

  2. Laura Bell

    27th December 1987 at 1:05 pm

  3. Brenda

    1st July 1988 at 8:13 pm

    Did someone study this? Really, what is the rate of contamination? My dad used to say “Piled higher and Deeper…”

  4. Ivette Soler

    26th September 2005 at 5:18 am

    Okay this is CRAP!!! (hahahaha I couldn’t resist!) I’ll bet if we take a peek into who is sponsoring this legislation, we will find Big Ag and the companies that sell chemical fertilizers somewhere in the mix. I am really suspicious of it being initiated as a protective measure – both hot and composted manures are fertilization techniques that are ancient and can’t be tightly controlled, packaged and sold. So here they step in with regulations so that Big Ag can get its money. This all makes me so cynical!!!

  5. Laura Bell

    21st October 2006 at 6:39 pm

    So every little bit of bird poo or rabbit raisins has to be reported? How absurd.

  6. Peter Garnham

    25th October 2016 at 6:57 pm

    What the FDA is doing is clearing the way for the use of more synthetic chemical fertilizers, manufactured by their industry sponsors (who also own Congress and the White House). It has nothing to do with safety.

  7. admin

    3rd November 2016 at 9:18 am

    Not all manures are good!

  8. Catherine

    28th November 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Ivette and peter nailed it. This is the FDA acting as handmaiden to Big Ag Chem, which has been spreading filthy lucre through Washington for decades. We are getting exactly the government they bought and paid for.

  9. Nora Graf

    30th November 2016 at 1:57 am

    People have died from food poisoning from vegetables from organic farms (along from commercial farms.) While manure has been used for centuries, the world has changed. People died from food poisoning in the past. Even 50 years ago we just didn’t have the understanding or technology to track where the contamination came from or even what was causing it. Just saying, there might be more here than meets the eye.

  10. skr

    30th November 2016 at 2:49 am

    Exactly. People will wax nostalgic for the pastoral image of a forgotten agriculture, but they always forget the rampant death from fecal coliforms that used to exist right along side it.

  11. skr

    30th November 2016 at 8:21 am

    All I know is that I would rather eat a tablespoon of ammonium sulphate than a tablespoon of raw manure.

  12. Layanee

    30th November 2016 at 9:40 am

    Many farmers do spread raw manure on fields but it is usually done in New England in the fall, tilled in in the spring and then planting ensues. Nine months usually go by but six months should do it. I would love to see an independent study on manure pathogens and the cycle of their lives. Perhaps it has already been done. This legislation seems a ‘knee jerk’ reaction but is probably fueled by lobbyists. Big business does rule the country.

  13. admin

    30th November 2016 at 12:02 pm

    It is my understanding that surface application of manure without incorporation can lead to runoff. Am I mistaken? As a gardener (not farmer) in only the vaguest sense, I appreciate any insight offered. Thanks.

  14. David

    30th November 2016 at 12:51 pm

    In the vernacular of the young WTF!!!

  15. JodiepCook

    30th November 2016 at 1:05 pm

    I’m not sure how the regulation of raw manure on food crops turns into a rant against big ag and government in general. I agree with skr and Nora. Why not make our food production processes safer? Seems like a ridiculous position to rant about to me. Just compost the stuff and everything will be fine. Btw, these guidelines don’t arise from a government conspiracy but from people like Linda Harris, PhD doing work to reduce food-borne illness…to protect people…from DEATH…or at least a bad week.
    I think this might be just another example of the anti-science mindset at work. Look at this list of scientific studies she and her colleagues have authored/contributed to…Are you going to suggest that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about or is some kind of government patsy? http://ucfoodsafety.ucdavis.edu/Linda_J_Harris/

  16. JodiepCook

    30th November 2016 at 3:25 pm

    I was referring to the rants in the ensuing comment collective. Your rant was indeed mild…and you are right that additional regulation should be directed at practices much more injurious to public health overall. Herbicides, pesticides, etc.

  17. Landscaping Coventry

    30th November 2016 at 4:40 pm

    That I would rather eat a tablespoon of ammonium sulphate than a tablespoon of raw manure.

  18. admin

    30th November 2016 at 7:01 pm

    The problem I have with any fertilizer is application time/quantities. In my part of the country there seems to be little concern whether the manure will be absorbed, either because the ground is already frozen (surface application of liquid manure is exempt from restrictions due to frozen soil) or too much has been applied. Either way, it introduces pollution via runoff.

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