No poo for you, organic farmers!


Manure image courtesy of Shutterstock
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.”

Previous articleLook at My Big Rock
Next articleMore than just seed porn
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. *sigh*

    Ridiculous. Too many regulations for things that don’t really need it. As our illustrious Governor (Jerry Brown, CA) once said, “Every human problem does not require legislation.”

  2. 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!!!

  3. Oh boy….this is just one of many new requirements for farmers in the last few years. For example, my orchard is now required to pay for, and pass a USDA GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) inspection, or my fruit can’t be sold through my packing house. The inspection covers a number of areas that you would expect: licenses, safety, training of workers, machine maintenance, tracking of the produce, and hygiene, etc.

    They are especially keen on the hygiene. Understandable that they check out the bathroom and hand-washing facilities. They make sure everything is identified by signage; and they even wait for a worker to go to the bathroom to make sure they wash their hands afterwards. They will ask the worker what he/she does if he/she gets a cut on their hand (correct answer: tell the boss, clean it and bandage it), and also they check to be sure that workers have clipped their fingernails, so they don’t puncture the fruit and spread pathogens that way.

    But. They also require us to keep all wildlife and pets out of the orchard, even requiring us to post a sign saying “No wildlife or pets allowed in the orchard” (I kid you not! We had to think where to post this so the deer, birds, squirrels, etc would see it :P). We are required to keep a log of wildlife sightings, AND a log of (drum roll please) any animal droppings we find, and what we did to dispose of them.

    So, your tax dollars at work!

      • I know Laura, it’s crazy. There’s always been a disconnect between agricultural research/policy and in-the-field farming, but I think these days it’s driven by consumer paranoia (which is driven by media reports of disaster, like the e. Coli and salmonella outbreaks–something which has always occurred here and there, but now we know all the minute details), 24/7). Not to say that common sense shouldn’t prevail in handling our food.

        I find it ironic that all of this is going on right at a time when we are discovering just how important our exposure to dirt and bacteria is to our immune system health.

  4. This is just another sign of how broken the industrial agriculture system is. They feel the need to regulate fresh manure because of possible pathogens. The way most animals are raised now leads to increases in them. Not only does industrial animal production lead to more pathogens, it is leading to antibiotic resistant pathogens.

    E coli is not the only thing you will find in animal manure. There could be antibiotics, growth hormones and herbicides to name a few other options. Now I doubt you will see regulations on the use of manure over any of these. Because, you know why.

    Ask yourself what is in that bag of cow manure from the Big Box store and where did it come from? You have no way of knowing what the animals it came from were subjected to or what chemicals manage to survive the composting process.

    I collect horse, goat and now alpaca poop from a client’s hobby farm and bring it home to set. I know the pastures have been sprayed with herbicides. I have spayed them myself. Some of those chemicals are documented to make killer compost. It’s a risk. I figure my aged manure is good to spread when broad leaf weeds start growing in it.

  5. 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.

  6. Not all manures are good!

    I have been speaking about this for decades and it is why I harvest, process and package #MooPooTea at the bottom of this podcast interview I just did with Michael C. Podlesny of Seeds of the Month Club there are several links that I recommend reading and I also think this podcast interview the Wisconsin Vegetable Gardeners just aired with Joe Lamp’l of Growing a Greener World TV is also one you want to listen too and this most recent post by Grumpy Gardener (aka Steve Bender) of Southern Living’s Daily South blog that posted today is well worth the read.

    • two young children were killed at the Washington County NY Fair due to e coli runoff from fresh cow manure that made its’ way into the drinking water. Many studies have also shown dried manure contains antibiotics, BGH and steroids that are pumped into cows and other live stock.
      If you believe otherwise you are full of crap


  7. I agree with Ivette. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that this is being done at the instigation of Big Ag. They’re determined that we only have their substandard and frequently unsafe offerings to eat.

  8. 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. 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.

    • 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.

  10. 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.

    • 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.

  11. 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?

    • Well, this was a very mildly worded rant. I am not in the least anti-government. I only begin to question it when I hear that using manure on crops is being questioned when many other practices that disturb me (and others) seem to get a pass.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

    Whether you support “traditional” or “natural” farming practices, we can all agree that manure in waterways is a disease vector.

    • Well sure, and if whatever is substituted for manure gets into the waterways, that’s bad too. Manure–or anything–should be used in such a way as to prevent runoff. But I don’t think this regulation is meant to address that.

Comments are closed.