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If you have a pile of contaminated manure contact the Manure Matters website.
There follows my diary of events connected with our problem with contaminated manure.
11 June 2008
I suppose signs that there was a problem started several weeks ago but at that time we didn’t realise it. The situation that we now face was building up within the very soil that we thought we had enriched with wholesome manure. Unaware we carried on planting!
The first signs were at the time not considered to be anything out of the ordinary. One of our plot holders commented that his tomatoes were curling as they grew and looked funny. Being fairly new to growing tomatoes he asked advice and was told that tomatoes often do that sort of thing! Still no-one realised what was in store.
Then Pat our plot neighbour asked me if our potatoes were OK? She said that her potatoes looked funny and so did those of Charlie and Gill further up the site. At that stage only one or two of our potato plants looked anything out of the ordinary and nothing like as distorted as those on the other two plots. Those did look strange so I headed for the Internet (as you do nowadays). The nearest answer that I could find was potato leaf curl virus but that didn't look right. We tried to find a common link. The potatoes were different varieties but Pat’s and Gill’s had been bought from the same nursery so was it possible that a virus had somehow entered the seed potatoes at the nursery?
2 - 28
Then our potatoes started to deteriorate and show signs of the same problem. We had bought our potatoes elsewhere. The common link seemed to be the manure that we had bought. Gill was convinced that this was the problem. Had we perhaps used too much, was it too fresh? The most damaged potatoes seemed to be around where we had our manure piles dumped.
I took photos and create a post on our blog asking if anyone else had come across these symptoms or could suggest what the problem was. The photos in the album below may help you to identify whether you too have a problem. Let's hope not.
I continued to browse the Internet and came across a forum on the Allotments UK forum. Click here for the discussion. One of the threads seemed to be describing exactly what was happening to our potatoes and linked to our suspicions that the manure was the problem.
I decided to visit the Kitchen Garden Magazine forum and posted a thread asking if anyone else has suffered from a similar problem. Click here to read. I was a bit worried at this point as from the reaction to my post I thought that I had got something badly wrong. Then another contributor found a link to a website that seemed to give more credence to the suspicion
(This website is no longer available)
Ploughing on I browsed more and found a posting on the RHS blog entitled Dodgy Muck. This asked for anyone who thought that they had a problem with contaminated manure to get in touch Click here to read. So I did, explaining that there were photos on our blog illustrating the affected crops.
I had a reply the next day from Guy Barter Head of Horticultural Advisory Services at the Royal Horticultural Society and I quote:
"Many thanks for your most interesting report.
The potato distortion is classic hormone type weedkiller damage. In the last two years a new herbicide has been introduced which binds to the lignin (update June 2009 - I am now told the herbicide binds to plant cellulose) in straw and grass, so that when the muck rots it is released and harms crops. We think this new herbicide is implicated in many of the cases that we have encountered– read more here: (website no longer available)
The label of the herbicide specifically states that manure from beasts fed or bedded on treated crops should not be used for horticultural crops – so something has badly slipped. The Pesticide Safety Directorate is on the case.
Weedkiller in the soil should dissipate by next year, but in stacks of contaminated manure it may take two or more years to decay. Any left-over manure should be returned to sender if possible for spreading on grass or corn".
This information confirmed what we had suspected. So it was back to The Kitchen Garden Magazine Forum to let everyone know what I had found out and suddenly the worms leapt out of the can and we all started trying to find out as much as we could about the problem. Farmers taking part sin the discussion were appalled that this was something that they had no idea of – they didn’t know that a herbicide existed that could stay effective for such a length of time.
Below is a video if the symptoms
On the same day Helen Bostock from the RHS emailed to say that they were issuing a press release warning gardeners about the problem so could they use one of the photos on our blog. They had pictures of pieces of plant sent in to them but none of growing crops. I was happy to oblige. Helen gave permission for us to publish Guy’s email response on our blog. Shortly afterwards an update report was posted on the Pesticide Safety Directorate's web site - click here. The suspect herbicide trades under the following brand names Banish, Forefront, Halcyon, Pharaoh, Pro-Banish, and Runway.
Meanwhile all sorts of questions were being asked such as Can we eat affected crops? Can we eat crops grown in affected soil? How long will the residue last etc? The bottom line was that no-one could really tell us whether or not the crops were safe to eat - just give us their opinion. Not even one of the manufacturers of the herbicide could give us a definite answer when a couple of our plot holders spoke to them on the telephone. No tests had been carried out for this scenario so no guarantees could be given. Tests on soil or plant matter are too costly and so we can’t be 100% sure when the soil is eventually free of any residue.
Back on the site we decided to check other plots and found more crops becoming affected and we also started to link the earlier problem with the tomatoes and found sure enough it was the same problem. All plots affected had bought manure from the same supplier. I contacted the farmer who had supplied our loads and he told me that he didn't use a herbicide at all on his pastureland but had bought in silage from some other farms but had no idea that anyone had used the herbicide in question. In common with farmers on the KG forum, he had no idea that a herbicide existed that had such long lasting effects. He was as much of a victim as we were. He said that he never sold manure until it had been stacked for at least three months so that if any supplier had used a herbicide it would have totally dissipated by the time he passed on the manure. Incidentally this herbicide is considered to be a safe herbicide but just read the restrictions on the label.
Meanwhile back at the KG forum we decided to mount a publicity campaign to try and make sure that no-one else suffered our problems. Personally I have email MP, MEPs, ( I have had a holding letter from one of the MEPs), government departments, any organisation or magazine or web site that I can think of that is aimed at gardeners, the media, the press, a couple of celebs linked to gardening (it's not easy to get contacts for celebrities though!) and goodness knows who else. Remarkably hardly anyone has replied. A regional newspaper (The Yorkshire Post) has published an article. Click here and we have been interviewed on local radio - Radio Leeds. The Observer also published an article too. Our local Environmental Heath told me that I should contact DEFRA as the issue needed to be dealt with nationally. I had done but no response from them yet. I also decided to write to a member of the royal family and received a reply within the week. I have also emailed some seed companies and garden centre chains warning them of the problem.
I informed our Allotments’ Officer saying that I felt that all allotment sites in our area and the officers of allotment sites nationally should be made aware of the risk of using contaminated manure.
The RHS added advice to their website . These pages are no longer available.
There are still many questions that need answering. When will our soil be free from the affects of this chemical. We are told that any residue in the spread manure will dissipate within 12 months - but from when - we are unsure of how old the manure was when we had it delivered. Also it was stacked for a while and apparently the residue can take much longer to dissipate in heaped manure - not exactly sure how much longer though. By the end of January we had spread the last lot of our muck so that means that by next February we should be clear (I think!) Another question is can we be sure that we could find out if this herbicide is present in future manure. It seems information has to be passed down the supply chain by word of mouth so I can easily see how the information can be lost on the journey.
At this point we still don't know how much of our crops have been damaged as the treated plant material releases the chemical as it decays. It's a case of each day going along to see what else has fallen by the wayside. The jury is still out on whether we risk eating veg from the contaminated areas - it seems that this will be down to personal choice and balancing risk with seeing all our hard work go to waste.
In total now twenty plots on our site are affected some more seriously than others.
Some plotters spread the manure over their entire plot and used it to mulch fruit trees and roses. A couple of plot holders have just about lost their entire crops.
29 June 2008
Helen Bostock replied with this advice:
"I imagine, as with other types of weedkiller damage, that the more established fruit bushes and trees will survive. Once the contaminated manure is in the soil, the breakdown of aminopyralid is much faster so affected trees and shrubs are likely to show signs of growing out of the problem by the following season. Raspberries do tend to be more sensitive to hormonal weedkillers than other fruit so they may show the worst symptoms. Perennial plants may too look badly hit but I think it is worth leaving them in the ground until the following year to see if they show signs of recovery".
Many of us grow our food on allotments to avoid chemical contamination. Gill refuses to let Charlie use weedkiller anywhere near her plot! We thought that by “growing our own”, we knew exactly what we are eating but do we really? We mistakenly thought manure was a wholesome organic material that could only do good on our land - we were wrong!
Can anyone enlighten me as to how the use of this manure would affect organic farmer status? Is there anything else out there that we should know about?
Information is now beginning to appear on a few websites so let's hope this raises public awareness.
We don't know how widespread the problem is but it certainly doesn't just affect us. Emails are now coming in to us from across the UK and today we even had an entry on our blog from the USA.
I'll keep you posted as to how we get on – wish us luck and please tell as many of your gardening acquaintances as you can about the problem.
We are told that any residue in the spread manure will dissipate with 12 months - but from when - we are unsure of how old the manure was when we had it delivered. Also it was stacked for a while and apparently the residue can take much longer to dissipate in heaped manure - not exactly sure how much longer though.
Some plot holders still have potentially contaminated manure (from the same supplier) heaped ready for use. In fact soon after we became aware of the problem, I just managed to stop Ron from spreading his. RHS advice is not to use any manure that has been stacked but to either get the supplier to take it away or spread it on any grassland. Neither very easy options.
At this point we still don't know how much of our crops have been damaged as the treated plant material releases the chemical as it decays. It's a case of each day going to see what else has fallen by the wayside. Twenty plots on our site are affected some more seriously than others. Some plotters spread the manure over all their plot and used it to mulch fruit trees and roses.
Many of us grow our food on allotments to avoid chemical contamination - we think in this way we know exactly what we are eating but do we really? We mistakenly thought manure was a wholesome organic material that could only do good on our land - we were wrong!
Now information is beginning to appear on a few websites so let's hope this raises public awareness. All in all lots of questions still need an answer in the meantime I'll keep you posted as to how we get on and please tell as many of your gardening acquaintances as you can about the problem.
We now know that this problem is widespread and seemed to be affecting all parts of the UK.
7 July 2008 - Communication from Trading Standards
Just to confirm that on Friday I contacted the Food Standards Agency to determine if they had information or advice for allotment holders and gardeners, on the use of manure that may have been contaminated by Aminopyralid. I will get back to you as soon as I receive a response.
25 July 2008 Communication to Trading Standards from The Food Standards Agency
The Food Standards Agency is looking into this with respect to consumer safety and is in contact with the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD),which is the lead government agency on the regulation of pesticides. Currently, PSD suspect that the herbicide responsible for the stunted /poor plant growth following application of the manure is aminopyralid. PSD is investigating this matter further and has taken samples of allotment produce, soil and manure for analysis to test for the presence of this herbicide. The approval holder for aminopyralid products - Dow AgroSciences - has provided residue data on which PSD has based a risk assessment of produce grown in manure containing aminopyralid. The FSA has seen PSD's risk assessment of allotment-grown produce and agreed that, based on the highest levels of aminopyralid reported in manure by the herbicide manufacturer, that no risk to health would be expected from aminopyralid residues in allotment produce. However, in the absence of analytical data on the identity and levels of any suspected herbicides in the manure, people may wish to take a precautionary approach and not consume produce from plants grown in soil treated with this manure. Aminopyralid is used in certain herbicide products to control weeds on grassland. This herbicide has gone through the full approval system for agricultural pesticides (the Food Standards Agency plays an active part in this process) and has been authorised for use in the UK since 2006. The manufacturer's instructions for the use of products containing aminopyralid state that manure from animals fed on treated land should not be spread on ground intended for sensitive crops (this includes potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, lettuce, sugar beet and carrots). This information is provided to purchasers of the product. Dow AgroSciences have a link on their website to specifically address issues arising from aminopyralid-affected manure http://www.dowagro.com/uk/grass_bites/faq/allotment.htm. (Page no longer available) This website may also help answer some of the other questions posed by enquirers. Further updated information about aminopyralid can be found at PSD's (now CRD) website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pesticides/ The most recent PSD regulatory update notes that sale, supply and use of herbicide products containing aminopyralid has been suspended.
28 July 2008- Communication from Trading Standards
For your information is the response I have had from the Food Standards Agency. Not a great deal new!The idea is that there should be traceability throughout both the food and animal feed chain. In the event of a food/feed incident the source of the problem should be then be able to be identified at the point of origin. There is a large amount of legislation covering food/feed safety, in particular feed hygiene regulations EC183/2005 and matching law for food. In both regard has to be given not only for the use but storage and training of people on how to use pesticide/herbicides. In practise I feel this may not be described as an exact science, but confidence can I feel be increased if the farm business concerned is a member of one of the assurance schemes i.e. "red tractor"; I know membership of these bodies requires a level of compliance which is often above the minimum legal requirement. Also the companies that audit the farms for membership are very thorough.
Several people have emailed me to say that they too have a problem which they suspect is caused by contaminated manure such as ours. A rather disturbing feature is that some people are mentioning that they suspect that a bagged product has caused the problem and it also seems that organic farms can also be a source.
Some have given permission for me to mention them here. Please keep information coming in as many people are now visiting our website to read about the problem. As this information is increasing, I have decided to dedicate a page just to other people's experiences/observations.
It is now ten months since we had our manure delivered and six months since the manure was spread on our plot.
It wasn't just the UK with problems
Apparently not - today we had a post from someone in the USA. I know that visitors from other countries are visiting our website - so it would be good to know of any other parts of the world are being affected. Is the rest of Europe suffering from this problem or is it just procedures in the UK that are letting us down?