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Is Organic Fertilizer Really Organic?

By Kim Robson:

Most of us have gotten pretty good at reading food labels. But have you looked at the ingredients list on those store-bought bags of “organic” fertilizers? You may be shocked to find these components included:

  • Chicken or Turkey Feathers
  • Manure
  • Dehydrated Manure
  • Chicken Litter
  • Bone Meal
  • Fish Meal

The National Organic Program (NOP), which regulates organic farming, allows these ingredients in organic fertilizers. The word “organic” is loosely used in much the same way as the word “natural,” i.e., it means little to nothing. Manure is organic. So is uranium. That doesn’t mean we want it in our food.

You may even notice a seal of approval from the Organic Material Review Institute (OMRI), a private company that labels products containing ingredients permitted under the NOP. Products with an OMRI seal are approved for organic farming.

Let’s take a look at Scott’s Miracle Gro Nature’s Care, for instance. It claims to be a “natural and organic vegetable, fruit, and flower food.” It also has an OMRI seal. Here are the its main ingredients:

  • Feather meal
  • Fish meal
  • Blood meal
  • Wheat middlings
  • Meat and bone meal
  • Sulfate of potash
  • Calcium carbonate

In addition, it also has a California Proposition 65 warning: “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

Animal products generally are approved ingredients for organic gardening under NOP standards. Even raw manure is acceptable if it’s applied to crops within certain time limits (CFR 205.203). So, what’s the problem with all this?

Nonorganic Manure and Meal

The animals that produced that meal and manure probably ate GMO grains and crops that were sprayed with pesticides such as Roundup. You plan to eat the produce you grew in this “organic” soil, but it may have absorbed toxins directly from the fertilizer.

How is this permitted? Peggy Mairs, the Executive Director of OMRI, says, “Although genetically engineered ingredients are not allowed in the production of organic food, there are currently no regulations regarding the source of manure or plant materials used as ingredients in compost for organic production. In addition, sufficient quantities of manure from organic animals do not exist at this time to fulfill the compost needs of organic producers. Using manure from nonorganic farms helps to reduce the negative environmental impact created by those operations. As organic grows, there may be enough manure in the future from certified organic animals so that a requirement of ‘organic’ manure might be implemented. OMRI recently began reviewing products to the Canadian organic standards. In Canada, it is preferred that manure and other compost ingredients come from an organic farm.”

Arsenic

Worse yet, chicken litter from nonorganically-raised chickens may contain arsenic, which is acceptable under certain conditions under NOP standards. Arsenic is a feed additive in conventionally-raised broilers. Maximum acceptable levels of arsenic in soil vary from state to state. Crazily, arsenic is listed on NOP’s National List of Prohibited Nonsynthetic Ingredients.

Composted chicken litter, which store-bought fertilizer would contain, has even more arsenic in it than does fresh: “Poultry litter that contains 30 ppm arsenic before composting will contain 50 to 150 ppm arsenic after composting,” according to Barbara Bellows of the A National Sustainable Agriculture Assistance Program (ALTTRA). Plants absorb arsenic through their roots, and root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes would accumulate the highest levels of arsenic.

Antibiotics

A 2012 study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University found antibiotics that had been banned by the FDA in 2005 were still in use. The study tested feather meal samples.

Roundup (Glyphosate) Residue

Dr. Thierry Vrain, a PhD soil biologist and agriculture researcher, says, “There is no such thing as a GMO substance or a residue of GMO, but there is a pesticide, a chemical that is sprayed on GMO crops. That is where the toxicity lies. Any food or other processed product from GMO (manure from animals fed engineered grain) contains residue of the herbicide Glyphosate. Glyphosate is antibiotic in the soil and in your microbiome and an endocrine disruptor at 1 ppm. The industry has been very smart at hiding the pesticide story and generating this GMO controversy and debate.” He added that feathers and manure containing the pesticide residue shouldn’t be approved for organic gardening.

What About Fish Meal?

Ask your fish emulsion manufacturer for test results for contamination from known toxins, particularly heavy metals. Ask where their ingredients are sourced from and do your research. A safer option to consider is organic seaweed emulsion fertilizers.

Once again, we cannot stress enough the benefits of composting and building your own soil with a healthy microbial climate. Avoiding fertilizers and potting soils that contain these highly questionable nonorganic animal byproducts is your best option. After all, what goes into your garden will end up going into your and your family’s bodies.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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