The Organic Center welcomes the funding of a critical grant to further the study of the use of animal-based manure and compost in organic agricultural practices in order to best prevent the risk of soil pathogens. The grant was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was funded by USDA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).

The $50,000 grant was awarded to two researchers at the University of California, Davis. The proposal for the grant was conceived and written in collaboration with The Organic Center, and researchers from USDA, Woods End Laboratories, the University of Maine, and the University of Minnesota.

“We are extremely excited that this proposal that we worked hard to shape is now a reality,” said Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs at The Organic Center. “The study of current practices used by the organic industry related to manure, compost use and rotational grazing will greatly enhance the government’s efforts to improve production and handling regulations that impact food safety.”

The news of the grant, along with the announcement of the funding of a large-scale research grant on organic rice production in which the Organic Center is also collaborating, came after the members of The Organic Center’s Board of Trustees gathered at the University of California, Berkeley, last week for the group’s annual retreat. The Trustees received scientific briefings on the collaborative research The Center is a part of and discuss future research priorities of The Center.

The impetus for the proposal of the grant was the ongoing implementation process by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to improve food safety. FDA last fall issued revised language for its new rules implementing the FSMA regulations. Of the revisions, one of the most notable to the organic sector were changes made relating to the use of compost and manure and the required interval that untreated manure could be applied and crops harvested. FDA deferred from its earlier proposed 9-month minimum interval requirement to give the agency time to conduct research into determining an appropriate science-based application interval. FDA expects this process will take at least five years. In the meantime, all organic operations covered under the Produce Safety Rule have continued to follow the established National Organic Program regulations for application of raw manure, with 90- or 120-day application intervals.

Organic agriculture is the most strictly regulated system of agriculture, with a rigorously-enforced list of practices by which organic producers adhere. Certified organic producers are prohibited from using synthetic fertilizer on their crops. Instead they often utilize animal-based soil amendments including manure and compost to improve their soil fertility and quality.

Funding from the new grant will be used to hold public meetings and to collect information to help ensure that the unique realities of organic farmers are incorporated into FDA’s research and decision-making, as they develop appropriate regulations around the use of manure. It will enable organic stakeholders to be involved in this critical discussion, and will focus on organic produce, evaluating and characterizing the current practices and needs of organic producers.

“The results of this work will provide critical information for guidelines toward developing more research on how to lower the risk of foodborne pathogens for organic and sustainable agriculture,” said Dr. Shade.