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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.


  1. 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!!!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  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.

  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. 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.

  10. 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. 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.

  12. 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.

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