Group Wants Bisolids Labeled as ‘Synthetic’

I think I’ve heard everything now. According to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), raw manure is acceptable for use on organically grown foods, but municipal biosolids should be classified as a synthetic product unsuitable for organic crop production.

I think I’ve heard everything now. According to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), raw manure is acceptable for use on organically grown foods, but municipal biosolids should be classified as a synthetic product unsuitable for organic crop production.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently proposed the creation of national standards for the production and marketing of agricultural products that carry the “organically grown” label. Although EPA, USDA and other federal agencies have supported the beneficial use of biosolids, USDA is soliciting comment on whether they should be considered synthetic and therefore inappropriate for use in the production of organically grown food.

The NOSB, made up of farmers, food processors, retailers, scientists, consumer advocates and environmentalists – all appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture – has recommended that biosolids be classified as synthetic. The board has expressed concern about possible pollutants in biosolids, including polychlorinated biphyenyls, cadmium and lead, and the accumulation of heavy metals in edible plants.

The National Organic Program, proposed under the Organic Foods Product Act of 1990, would provide national standards for products identified as “organically grown.” There are currently 33 private and 11 state organic certification agencies around the country. That has created a nightmare for companies that want to market their produce as organically grown.

The new rules would require product labeling that tells consumers exactly what’s in “certified organic" food and how it was grown or manufactured.

The organic foods industry is in the midst of a seven-year boom that has led to a double-digit increase in annual sales. Natural Foods Merchandiser reports 1996 revenues for organic foods were $3.5 billion, up 26.3 percent from the year before.

The NOSB defines organic agriculture as “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony ….”

A bit of irony. The USDA has already said it will allow some synthetic materials to be used in organic crop production. They include horticultural oils and soaps used as insecticides; algicides; de-mossers; large animal repellents; copper and sulfur compounds used as pesticides; and minerals used as micronutrients and as defoliants in fiber production.

Personally I think properly treated biosolids would be a lot safer than untreated manure. And there’s nothing synthetic about biosolids. I don’t know if the ruling will have any effect on the use of biosolids in the United States. Even if they are deemed unsuitable for organically grown products, the ruling should have no impact on the use of biosolids with normal crops.

The proposed rule to establish a National Organic Program appeared in the Federal Register on December 16, 1997, pages 65849-65898. Comments on the proposal, due by March 16, may be submitted to Eileen S. Stomes, Deputy Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA, Room 4007-S, Ag Stop 0275, P.O. Box 96456, Washington, D.C. 20090-6456. Comments may also be sent to, and reviewed at, the National Organic Program homepage: http://www.ams. usda.gov/nop.

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