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:
- Foods labeled "100 percent organic" and "organic" — no sewage sludge
- Processed products labeled "made with organic ingredients" — no sewage sludge
- Everything else — no specification re sewage sludge
So, there you have it. Reason enough to go very organic.
4 Comments for "Just one minute there … sewage sludge in food?!"
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