Whole Foods to ban use of biosolids on produce

01/22/2014 06:52:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

Whole Foods logoAustin, Texas-based Whole Foods has quietly added biosolids to a list of products it plans to ban suppliers from using to grow produce, beginning later this year.

The decision comes after a handful of consumer and environmental advocacy groups waged an email campaign urging the retailer to label produce items grown with biosolids, also known as treated sewage sludge.

But Kate Kurtz, a soil scientist with the King County Waste Water Treatment Division, Seattle, said prohibiting the use of biosolids is actually counter to the tenants of sustainable agriculture.

“We feel very confident of the safety and the efficacy of biosolids and the use of biosolids, especially in nourishing crops,” she said. “We see the benefits of recycling the carbon and nitrogen back into the soil. From a sustainability standpoint, it really makes a lot of sense.”

She cited the county’s 40 years of experience producing biosolids as well as numerous studies conducted by universities and state and federal agencies.

The requirements are moot for organic production since the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program already bans the use of biosolids.

In September 2013, Whole Foods rolled out core standards that suppliers will have to meet by September. Biosolids were missing from the initial standards but have since been added. Whole Foods did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment.

The core standards also will include a science-based rating system being developed with the input of sustainable agriculture experts and suppliers, according to a Whole Foods press release. It is designed to measure the performance of topics it considers important to sustainable farming.

Beginning in September, the retailer will display ratings of “good,” “better” and “best” on produce and floral items.

Biosolids are the product of anaerobic digestion, where millions of beneficial microbes feed on and degrade the initial organic material over a 25- to 30-day period.

The Environmental Protection Agency has strict regulations about the number of pathogens that can remain at the end, the use of those biosolids and pre-harvest intervals for various crops, said Roberta King, King County biosolids program lead.

Over the years, King County has worked with researchers from the University of Washington, Washington State University, Oregon State University and the University of Arizona to develop safe uses for its biosolids, sold under the Loop brand.

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florida  |  January, 23, 2014 at 07:49 AM

So the take-home message is that Whole Paycheck has been feeding us excrement up until now?

cali  |  January, 23, 2014 at 01:15 PM

There have been no reports of any Whole Food growers being impacted by this decision. Biosolids are not included in the USDA organic standard. Caroline and Jim, I am a bit worried with some of your claims. I'm not aware of the "growing scientific consensus" that backs up your claims. I'm especially wary of the source you provided since its your website. As for claims of death it would seem these are purely anecdotal. There has been no definitive scientific link that would support your claims. Shouldn't we be more concerned about the effluent that is discharged directly to our waterways? I cannot imagine that everything contained in the raw material is concentrated in the biosolids and the effluent is now pure as the driven snow. I hope the both of you spoke out during the EPA's comment period for the use of Triclosan. Especially since you both share concerns for antibiotic resistant bacteria. Jim, making claims that being exposed to biosolids will lead to dementia is just dangerous. I'm convinced you two had good intentions in mind when you decided this was your cross to carry. Alas you have accepted only the opinions that agree with you and fail to recognize any other point of view. BTW since Cornell is the recipient of grants from the Park Foundation its little wonder what they claim to find.

Caroline Snyder    
North Sandwich NH  |  January, 23, 2014 at 08:54 AM

Whole Food's decision is based on the growing scientific consensus that this complex mixture of industrial and human waste should not be spread on the land where we grow our food or graze our animals. Sewage sludge contains hazardous waste. Lots of it. For a partial list, see www.sludgefacts.org/Ref125.pdf. It contains antibiotic resistant pathogens that have sickened people. At least three deaths have been linked to sludge exposure as well as hundreds of serious respiratory illnesses. According to a recent EPA sampling, all sludge contains toxic metals and other pollutants that are not removed through pretreatment. The nation's highest science court, the National Academy of Sciences, as well as the internationally renowned Cornell Waste Management Institute warn that current regulations are not based on recent science and do not protect human health, agriculture, or the environment. For some of the myths that are spread about the safety of sludge, visit www.sludgefacts.org/Ref126.pdf

Canada  |  January, 23, 2014 at 12:19 PM

Class B sewage sludge biosolids used as fertilizer are permitted to contain up to 2 million e-coli per 1/2 cup as indicators for all the other pathogens flushed down toilets from sick people, and 10 tonnes per acre are often aerially spread to fertilize corn. Even when disked in, 10% remains on the surface, so 1 tonne per acre is available to pollute waterways with rain and snow melt run-off and floods, and to blow as dust in the winds. The greatest threat to health is from the bacteria in sewage that share antibiotic resistant DNA, and the indestructible prion molecules that transmit most forms of dementia. Sewage sludge needs to be totally destroyed in waste to energy facilities, not used as fertilizer contaminating the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe!

Darlene Schanfald    
Sequim WA  |  January, 23, 2014 at 09:00 PM

Whole Foods has taken a positive step, after immense public pressure. William, if you get the chance, find a film entitled Sludge Diet to get an idea of the unhealthy impacts of spreading WWTP sludge on soil, why Switzerland disallows it, family deaths and health problems from this practice. Yes, the effluents are bad; so are the solids. The "cleaner" the effluents, the more pollution rich are the solids. Spread on land, they run into streams and end up in water bodies the CWA meant to stop. In my State of WA, it is known that where the solids have been spread, farmers have lost their cattle, their health and their farms. Triclosan is only one contaminant amongst the thousands. Try these links for more information about what has been found in these wastes by USEPA and what WWTPs can create. I just tried the links again, so I know they work. http://water.epa.gov/scitech/wastetech/biosolids/tnsss-overview.cfm http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19321192?dopt=Abstract http://www.thebradentontimes.com/news/2013/11/16/environment/sewage_sludge_a_pool_of_pathogens/#.Uoe_X0Ysyzt http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0078906 Switzerland, the USGS, and others have shown that food crops can take up some of these sludge contaminants.

Florida  |  January, 24, 2014 at 02:01 PM

What may be even more worrying than potential bacteria contamination, are the numerous toxins that are not being tested for, such as the huge amounts of pharmaceutical chemicals that make their way into this sludge. This country uses an absurd amount of very powerful prescription medications, and traces of these end up in the sludge. Many of these are endocrine disrupters or worse, and applying them to our food could result in millions of people being wrongly exposed to these dangerous drugs.

cali  |  January, 24, 2014 at 03:19 PM

Thanks Darlene. I my background is in academia and I have researched this topic at length. I stand by my previous comment above.

February, 15, 2014 at 12:50 PM

Carbon is neither created nor destroyed. That is why we need to spend so much money and energy converting it. First, from dirt and water and fertilizer, to make food and fiber. Then, to make more energy, we should let the waste become fuel. Burning carbon rich waste that also includes undesirables is best because it destroys the undesirables and creates valuable heat. It also creates sanitized smoke that has been purified by the oxidation process. See http://www.nviro.com to get your own ideas about how true recycling includes fire. Are you afraid of fire? Are you afraid of smoke? Or do you think engineers know a thing or two about making fire an asset?

February, 28, 2014 at 08:45 PM

Does this apply to Canadian Whole Foods? thx

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