The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has issued what it
describes as a wake-up call over the increasing use of organic fertilisers in farm production.
Vegetables and fruit are at particular risk of contamination, both directly
and indirectly, it warns. To minimise the danger,
the authority has prepared a list of recommendations for tighter controls
on the land-spreading of such materials, to be implemented by the
departments of agriculture and the environment.
“This is a wake-up call,” said the authority’s deputy chief executive, Alan
Reilly, citing the recent deadly E.coli outbreak
in the US that was
traced to peppers imported from Mexico. “What we are saying is
that increased measures need to be taken to ensure that what has happened
elsewhere does not happen here.”
According to the authority, while the use of organic, municipal and
industrial materials (OMI) is small in relation to farm-generated fertiliser (OA), trends indicate a significant increase
in its use in Irish agriculture. Such fertilisers,
it said, posed a particular safety risk when spread on land on which
ready-to-eat produce is grown.
In its recommendations, the authority calls for more effective control and
monitoring of the spread of such materials, including audits and the
keeping of registers. The use of untreated sludge in agriculture should no
longer be permitted, it says, and there should be at least a 12-month gap
between the harvesting of vegetable crops and the spreading on land of
It recommends that the method of land-spreading used should minimise the survival and dispersal of pathogens and
chemical contaminants to adjacent vegetable and other ready-to-eat crops,
and to waterways. The authority also calls for the provision of “adequate
resources” for the effective enforcement of the new measures and also to
fund “a more comprehensive scientific assessment” of the risks to food
safety from the use of such materials.
Reilly claimed that these risks were compounded by the contamination of
public water systems, as had happened recently in Galway
city with an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis, which made hundreds of people
ill and left the community without usable supplies for several months.
“Washing apples or leafy vegetables in such water – or even tomatoes grown
in your own greenhouse – obviously heightens the problem,” he said.
He pointed out that in 2004 alone, almost 61m tonnes of OA and OMI materials were spread on
agricultural land in Ireland.
And while acknowledging there are “gaps in current knowledge” on the
transfer of chemical contaminants and pathogens into the food chain through
such land-spreading, he said that also underlined the need both for greater
research funding and for stricter legislation to limit the health hazards