Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began accepting stakeholder input as it works to develop a risk assessment on the use of “biological soil amendments of animal origin” on human safety. This is a delicate way of phrasing that it wants to establish a risk assessment for the use of raw manure and similar products on food meant for human consumption.
As is commonly known, manure is a good fertilizer. Animal waste is highly useful for enriching soil and restoring the nitrogen and other nutrients that get lost over time as crops are grown. It goes without saying that raw, untreated manure would be cheaper for farmers and, for some, more immediately available. This is not just a matter of finances, either—more access to fertilizer means more enriched soil which means more possible crop cycles per year. However, it also goes without saying that there are some health concerns surrounding feeding humans’ food that is grown among untreated animal poo.
The food safety angle is fairly straightforward: animal waste can have pathogens like e. coli and salmonella and people prefer that these buggers get kept as far away from the dinner plate as possible. It is not unreasonable to believe, given how many foodborne illnesses seen every year in the U.S., that adding more routes of contamination should be avoided.
Currently, raw manure is permissible only for crops not intended for human consumption (like animal feed) or if the manure is applied at least 90-120 days prior to harvest, depending on whether the food has an edible part in contact with the soil.
What the FDA is looking for now is insight into how various forms of raw manure application may or may not impact human health. This includes things like quantity, time intervals between applications, how well pathogens can survive in treated vs. untreated manure, the potential for cross-contamination during distribution, and other factors surrounding this issue.
There is a somewhat limited body of work available covering these issues for the FDA to draw on, hence why it is asking for input and comment before developing its own framework. In addition to what factors influence the risk of foodborne illness from raw manure, the FDA will also be looking into mitigation methods. This means that its analysis will also look at common modes of transmission in farming, what safety measures can or are being taken during distribution and harvest, how storage conditions may affect the growth of pathogens, and other ways that the possible dangers of raw manure could be avoided.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Raw Manures,” American Ag Inc. web site; http://www.americanaginc.com/id60.html, last accessed March 4, 2016.
Kux, L., “Risk Assessment of Foodborne Illness Associated With Pathogens From Produce Grown in Fields Amended With Untreated Biological Soil Amendments of Animal Origin; Request for Scientific Data, Information, and Comments,” Federal Register web site; https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/03/04/2016-04712/risk-assessment-of-foodborne-illness-associated-with-pathogens-from-produce-grown-in-fields-amended, last accessed March 4, 2016.
“FDA Seeks Public Comments, Data and Information on Assessing the Risk of Raw Manure as Fertilizer,” U.S Food and Drug Administration web site, March 3, 2016; http://www.fda.gov/Food/NewsEvents/ConstituentUpdates/ucm482435.htm, last accessed March 4, 2016.