It didn’t take too long after I’d written the What is organic food? article yesterday — having read the USDA’s National Organic Program’s Labeling and Marketing Information — that I stopped in my tracks. The issue was these paragraphs, which are from the two highest organic categories listed on that page:

Foods labeled "100 percent organic" and "organic"

Foods labeled "100 percent organic" and "organic" cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation.

Processed products labeled "made with organic ingredients"

Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients … [and] labeled "made with organic ingredients" cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation.

Okay; this may not be suitable for dinner conversation (though we just may be talking about dinner here). But excluding the "excluded methods" and ionizing radiation, which do not sound good — and before I get overexcited (and on the hopeful theory that this simply cannot be what it sounds like) — I think we need some definitions. To be absolutely sure.

Sludge: Semisolid material such as the type precipitated by sewage treatment. [Answers.com]

Precipitated: Chemistry. To be separated from a solution as a solid. [Answers.com]

Okay. Nice solid … stuff. To be honest, I was going to make jokes about being "monumentally naive" until I realized that I’d been equating this with manure (barnyard dung) which may also be used as fertilizer — and which is far different from whatever may go into or come out of sewers. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to assume that more than ::cough:: "manure" goes into sewers, including toxic chemicals, cleaning agents, "stuff" from people who are ill, etc. Pretty thrilling stuff.

While this begs the question with respect to however else sewage sludge might be used in the "production" of food, apparently it was enough of a factor that the USDA made a point of prohibiting its use in the production of organic foods. At least, in two highest levels of food that can carry the organic label. It’s good to know that foods labeled 100 percent organic and organic — and processed foods labeled made with organic ingredients may not be "produced" with (among other things) sewage sludge. That’s reason enough to go organic.

But that leaves us with the USDA hierarchy regarding organic food. From the top:

  1. Foods labeled "100 percent organic" and "organic" — no sewage sludge
  2. Processed products labeled "made with organic ingredients" — no sewage sludge
  3. Everything else — no specification re sewage sludge

So, there you have it. Reason enough to go very organic.

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4 Comments for "Just one minute there … sewage sludge in food?!"

  1. Lynn Cameron

    Hello Diane,

    Sewage sludge is just a tiny portion of the senseless destruction going on regarding the planet’s food supply. Various sludges may contaminate the produce grown in it, while ionizing radiation kills it.

    Foods coming into this country from overseas are irradiated, so that high-priced organic banana from Central America arrives pretty much depleted of the living nutrients that are the excellent trade-off for its carbohydrate calories. Radiation, of course, is lethal to living things, which is why it is used to remove insects, bacteria, and mold from food. But, it’s like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer to use this ill-advised control method in importation of so much of our food supply.

  2. Diane Vigil

    Yikes, Lynn. The more I learn, the worse it gets. Now we not only have to look for organic food, but we must also determine *where* it came from and what was likely done to it.

  3. I ate conventional food and I feel …

    […] suspect that, as you cease ingesting foods with hormones, pesticides and other nasty ingredients, your body (having stored this type of thing over a period of time) processes them out and you feel […]

  4. Processed foods can cause cancer

    […] I was reading an article this morning on Yahoo by Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor for Reuters, which indicates that eating processed foods can cause cancer. The article, Cancer Panel attacks U.S. food subsidies, generally discusses eating unhealthy foods, which I felt was a step in the right direction as it steers us toward eating more fruits and vegetables. This is a good thing IF you are eating fruits and vegetables that are organically grown. To eat conventionally grown fruits and veggies is to take your health into your own hands (see There's sewage sludge in food?!). […]

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