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.”