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Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Religion of "Organics"

What Is "Organic"?

I posted this to show the confusion which exists about the term "organic". I don't share my opinions much on my blogs. I try to post facts. But this term, organic, has me concerned. The term "organic" is confused by the public. This confusion leads to sales opportunities. Some marketing people capitalize on this confusion. Others don't know the difference. If this confusion is not addressed or removed it could open the doors towards abuse in marketing and sales.

TRANSGENICS: Biological and Organic Foods

Three types of "organic" products; 100% Organic, USDA Certified Organic and just plain "Organic". What do they mean?

 Organic GreenFixThe Organic Seal | Agricultural Marketing Service

"Organic" Compost

I do quite a bit of consulting. Now that I am retired from my University position I am free to do that. It gives me a lot of chances to see things that I don't see in academics. One of my consulting jobs is with a composting company in the United States. One of the products they market and sell is a compost made from biosolids. The biosolid content was somewhere around 20% by volume. Most composts made from biosolids are 100% "organic" and high in phosphorus. When a consumer asks if this product is organic, what is the correct response? In one sense of the word, it meets this definition 100%! But is this what the consumer is really asking or wanting?

"Organic" compost made with composted biosolids. Biosolids are rich in nitrogen. No additional nitrogen needed to speed up composting into weeks. Is this "organic"? If the components were left to "rot" on their own, it would takes months without the biosolids.
I found that about 80% of the people who understood the difference (after a long explanation about organics by me) decided it was something they could use. Most of these reasons, I believe, were based upon price. But 20% refused the product and were willing to pay a higher price for a product that contained 0% biosolids. I developed a low-cost compost that contained a 0% biosolid. To speed up the composting process of these "vegan" products, nitrogen was added as a mineral fertilizer. Now the compost was no longer "organic" but it contained no biosolids.
Compost made using biosolids. Biosolids contain human waste. Many states no longer allow burying human waste in landfills. This creates a huge potential disposal problem. The US Environmental Protection Agency has worked very hard to develop protocols for composting biosolids and recycling it back into the environment. These protocols include extremely low human pathogen levels and "caps" for heavy metal content. Some of these composted biosolids meet the US EPA levels for "safe" application to fruits and vegetables.

Compost, all organic components made from plants, made without composted biosolids but nitrogen fertilizer is added to speed up composting. Without additional nitrogen added, composting can take a very long time..

"Organic" Weedkillers

There is a weedkiller, that is 100% organic and high in phosphorus. It is extremely effective and systemic as well. In other words, if I applied it to the leaves, the plant could take it to the underground roots and kill the entire plant.

If I told this to a consumer they might buy it, relying on the word "organic"as the key word for purchasing. What if I told you that this description is 100% accurate but it describes the weedkiller called Roundup? Would the consumer still buy it?

Technically speaking, Roundup is a 100% organic, high phosphorus, systemic weedkiller. Consumers looking for a 100% organic product might be sold this when it's not what they wanted.
Plant and Soil Sciences eLibrary
This is the active ingredient in Roundup weedkiller. It is an "organic" compound, high in phosphorus.

 "Organic" Fertilizers

 What is an "organic" fertilizer? These same principles might apply to fertilizers as well. Unlike "mineral" fertilizers, urea fertilizer, 46-0-0 or 45-0-0 could be classified as "organic" because, like glyphosate, it has an "organic backbone" in its chemical structure.
ChienLab - Stephanie's Science Page
The basic structure of urea, whether it comes from animal waste or manufacturing
 Like all mineral fertilizers, the biggest problem is not in the pure, basic chemistry of the fertilizer. The plant doesn't care if the nitrogen comes from bat guano, urea, chicken manure or cow manure. The potential problems are with the chemicals "associated" with the fertilizer, "contaminants" if you will. These contaminants might come from its manufacturing process, minerals associated with the mining of this fertilizer, or even (heaven forbid!) what the cow ate (animal maures) or how it was cared for (antibiotics)! But most antibiotics are also "organic"!

"Organic" Label

The organic label for food in the United States must meet some very specific, legal requirements before this label can be applied to it. These legal requirements are required by the United States Department of Agriculture before this product is "awarded" this label.


The USDA requires a fair amount of bookkeeping that must be presented to a certifying body before the "organic" award is granted. There is fraud sometimes. There are unscrupulous producers who lie about the legal requirements and obtain an organic certification when they shouldn't. Hopefully, the number of producers who are fraudulent are in a very small minority but they are out there.


The Organic Seal | Agricultural Marketing Service
Add captionThis is the "Certified organic label owned by USDA. All products awarded this certification can apply it to their label. Are there fraudulent products which receive this certification? Yes, but hopefully the numbers are very small.

Compost Made from Animal and Plant Waste

 If the nitrogen comes from animals or plants then its "naturally organic", right? But is that type of "organic" safe? Isn't that what we are looking for? The word "compost" is frequently equated to "organic", "natural" and "safe". But is it?

Compost piles "cold composted" or "hot composted". The difference can be the presence of weeds when it is used or an abundance of potentially life threatening microorganisms. Compost does not necessarily mean the product is "safe". 

Compost thermometers are used in commercial composts to kill weed seeds, human pathogens and indicate when the pile needs to be turned or "aerated".
How is the compost made? Is it standard compost made with animal manure? How were the animals managed? Were they given antibiotics? Were they pastured and allowed to graze? Was the animal manure from feedlots where they were fed primarily corn and the animals confined?

Is it a "Vegan" compost made from all plants? Were the plants sprayed, injected or their roots drenched in pesticides before they were cut down and chipped? Were mineral fertilizers used in composting? Were those mineral fertilizers "safe" to use?

And finally, how was the compost "made" or managed" Commercial composts raise the temperatures of the compost pile high enough and long enough to kill potentially harmful microorganisms and kill weed seeds. Non-commercial composts may not. Where is the quality control?

It's All About Trust - Buy Local

Bottom line, its all about trust. Trust your producer. If you value the producers lifestyle and personal philosophy, then buy. As my Economics professor used to say, "Vote with money. If you like something, buy it. If you don't, then don't buy it. If you buy something you believe in, more of it will be produced."

Trust and know your producer. Buy local. 

More important than the religion of "Organics"

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