FDA Comes Down On Organic Farmers So I Hope Your Kids Like Pesticides

shutterstock_75461170Remember that 80′s movie Kidco?  These adorable Cessna kids know that Harvey Peterjohn is filthy rich because he sells fertilizer, but when they realize that fertilizer is just a fancy way of saying animal dung, they shovel up everything on their horse farm and make lots of money for themselves.  Well, if those kids were thinking about going into business now, they’d be SOL.

Driven by a concern over E.Coli and other bacteria found in animal manure fertilizer the FDA has proposed severe limitations its use. As if it’s not difficult enough to buy organic, these new rules will make it more of a challenge for organic farmers to thrive and for us to afford their products.   And farmers are pissed.

Every highly productive farmer depends on fertilizer. But organic farmers are practically obsessive about it, because they’ve renounced industrial sources of nutrients.

“We think of it as the best thing in the world,” says organic farmer Jim Crawford, “and they think of it as toxic and nasty and disgusting.”

The FDA sites the cases of sickness and death over the past decade, including Earthbound Farms 2006 spinach E. coli contamination in which 200 people got sick and three died.  However, raw manure was not the source of that outbreak so these measures wouldn’t have prevented those incidents.  And while we’re at it, do we have to protect against every single avoidable risk?  Even when the natural process and its benefits outweigh the risks?

It’s also part of a natural cycle, and the basis of organic farming. Most crops strip vital nutrients from the soil. But the nutrients don’t disappear; if you feed those crops to cattle or turkeys, the nutrients mostly end up in manure. For the turkey farmer, the manure is waste. For Crawford, it’s precious. “Cycling nutrients. That’s what it’s all about. Cycling organic nutrients.” This is a typical practice among organic farmers, especially the smaller ones. But they may now have to change.

Because some bacteria can live anywhere between a few weeks and 10 months, the FDA is proposing two controversial ways to prevent exposure.  First, they recommend composting the animal waste.  The heating process would kill off dangerous bacteria immediately — but it would also drive up costs three to six times what they are now.  The second is waiting the better part of a year to harvest crops after laying down the manure.  The current organic rules requires farmers wait four months, but the new rules are longer than an entire growing season.

“We wouldn’t even be able to function,” he [Crawford] says.

I rarely buy organic because it’s just so insanely expensive.  When I do, I follow the conventional wisdom — buying those fruits that have thin porous skins and more vulnerable to pesticide absorption.  I dream of a time when all farmers and food manufacturers get on board to make our food as safe as possible, but the FDA’s new national safety rules look like a step in the wrong direction for organic farmers.

(photo: Zurijeta/Shutterstock)

You can reach this post's author, Carinn Jade, on twitter.
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    • NYBondLady

      So, so, sad. It’s like the part in Food, Inc. when the organic chicken farmers were at risk of being shut down because they were slaughtering outside. The FDA wanted their chickens to get a wash in bleach. Ugh.

    • FaintlyXMacabre

      We live in a world where it’s necessary to accept that everything you eat is gonna have some poo on it.

    • Annona

      This is what happens when many people involved in making these kinds of decisions have a vested interest in the pesticide and industrial ag industry (ahem, Monsanto, I’m looking at you.) They’re so worried about the possibility of bacteria from organic fertilizer…but they don’t seem to care about the poop content of factory farmed meat. Or vegetables grown outside the US where living conditions for farm workers lead to contamination. (This is why cantaloupes can kill you.)

      Most of the produce I buy is non-certified organic. Our farmer’s market has tons of it, the growers use organic methods, they just haven’t sought USDA organic status, meaning they don’t have to pay the extra money and jump through the extra hoops, which keeps the cost of the produce down. Since I have enough sense to wash everything we eat, I’m less worried about manure and more worried about chemicals so imbedded in my food that no amount of washing can take it away, which is what you get when stuff is grown covered in chemicals.

      • C.J.

        I buy mostly non-certified organic also. I’m lucky enough to live in an area that has a lot of farms and greenhouses so we can get local produce year round. What makes me angry is that when you go in to the big grocery stores half the produce comes from Mexico or other places because those places often undercut our local prices. The grocery stores don’t charge any less for them. I live in Canada, if it isn’t grown in Canada or the US I refuse to buy it. I’m not feeding my family food from places that I don’t know what their growing standards are or that I know have poor growing standards.

      • pixie

        The one thing I find the grocery stores charge significantly less for is garlic from China, whereas Canadian grown garlic is super expensive. The quality difference between the two is huge, though, with the Canadian being superior. At least that’s what it’s like where I am.

    • TngldBlue

      Not a surprise considering the FDA is run by and rife with Monsanto lackeys.

    • Kay_Sue

      In addition to the example already cited by a couple of comments here, big agriculture is big business for a variety of legislators, who receive farm subsidies on top of being quite wealthy themselves, in some cases.

      They aren’t interested in making organic produce more affordable or finding solutions that will keep costs down. Organic farming is more expensive, labor intensive, and risky, and so, unappealing to them as businessmen.

      This doesn’t surprise me at all in that context. Big money politics FTW, y’all.

    • pixie

      The horse farm where I ride at sells their manure to local farmers for $2 a bag in the summer. Because we clean out the stalls every day and it builds up in the muck pile, every month or so we use a tractor to move it to a larger pile further back on the property where it hangs out until it’s ready to be bagged and sold. It’s not sold until it’s at least six months, but for us it would be too expensive to get removed from the property, so selling it makes a couple bucks. We also don’t spend any money on bags because we just recycle old, empty feed bags.
      It’s easy to wash off a bit of animal poo. Not so much chemicals that have been absorbed into the crop.

    • pineapplegrasss

      1. this doesn’t have anything to do with pesticides (as your title states) 2. it only takes one cycle to get ahead of yourself on composting manure and it truly is safer.

    • the_ether

      So, cow poo on your lettuce is way to dangerous, but poop on chicken from massive-scale meat processing plants is A-OK?

    • Janok Place

      Oh boy… it never gets any easier for farmers. What I don’t get, is it’s not JUST organic farmers who utilize manure. We live in farm country, we run a small hobby farm. It is COMMON practice here. The one that gets me, is the human manure a farm several minutes away uses, now that stinks.

      We shovel a solid 100lbs of manure every day and I’ll take that over people waste any day. I fertilize the garden with composted manure. I also drink raw milk, and I can tell you right now the issue with natural foods is always in human error. It becomes contaminated through handling not growing. Bagged lettus/spinachehas the highest rate of food poisoning, more then the rest of the categories combined. However, it is the food from which monsanto does not profit that receives the highest scrutiny.

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