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Consumer Group Wants Sludge Off The Menu

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 By Jim Wishner/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - MN, Contact
October 20, 2008

Minneapolis, MN - Minnesota consumers are being advised to avoid food produced using fertilizer containing sludge. The Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy says sewage sludge in fertilizer products can contain disease-causing microbes, synthetic chemicals and heavy metals.

Marie Kulick, a senior policy analyst for IATP, defines sludge as a product left over after wastewater is treated. Using it for fertilizing crops and home gardens can lead to acute and chronic disease in humans, she says.

"Animals grazing on pasture take in a lot of soil that can contain contaminants if it was treated with sewage sludge. Also, crops are known to take up certain contaminants, they could be blown onto plants and so forth."

Kulick says it's an unnecessary health risk because safer alternatives are available.

"The number one way to avoid this product is to buy certified organic. In addition to banning the use of synthetic pesticides, they also ban the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer."

People who shop at farmers' markets can ask vendors about their food production techniques. Kulick says all consumers need to know what's in their food and how it was grown.

"Right now, there isn't a requirement that food that's produced with sewage sludge and fertilizer be labeled that way. Having food labeled would give consumers another option."

Kulick says labeling legislation has been introduced in Congress, but never has gotten anywhere. She says it might have a chance if consumers get vocal about it. The EPA has set standards for sludge content and use, but according to IATP those standards are weak and don't protect consumers.

As a precaution, Kulick suggests washing or peeling fresh produce carefully and tells home gardeners to avoid using fertilizer that contains sludge.

An IATP guide to help consumers make informed food and fertilizer choices is available at www.iatp.org.



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