Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sludge on Your Plate

I was talking to a friend, yesterday, about some of the things that I witnessed while working on some local farms last year.  The farms, all organic, were busting with fresh, beautiful produce.  It was the goings-on in the periphery that disturbed me so.

There were days when I went to the farm only to be smacked in the nose by the most putrid smell.  Sure enough, the sludge spreader was out in full force.  Sludge, for the uninitiated, is the human waste that is separated from the water at treatment facilities. The treated water gets sent back into the water system, but what to do with the solids?  Well, if you were with me last summer, you would see what they do with it.  They spread it on the land.  The land that grows our food.

Aside from the fact that this is human shit we're talking about, let's consider how contaminated the stuff in the toilet truly is.  The Environmental Protection Agency has tested sludge that has found its way onto agricultural land and, yes, into garden centres being sold as "organic compost".  The sludge, or "biomass" as the politically correct like to call it, is full of pharmaceutical drugs, heavy metals, pathogens, chemicals, solvents, viruses, and antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Unfortunately, the plants grown in these soils bioaccumulate the toxins.  Then, as it goes, either we eat the plants directly or indirectly via the animals that ate them first.
"...high quality, nutrient-rich, organic Biosolids Compost."  Makes you want to eat something, doesn't it?

But it's not only sewage that composes the sludge, industrial abattoirs push the waste products from the killing floor directly into the water treatment system.  These are the same industrial animals that are fed antibiotics every day in their feed, a known source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  These diseased animal guts, blood, feces, and tissues are simply washed down the drain to join up with the rest of the sludge (composed of poop, condoms, tampons, etc..) that is going to be put onto fields that grow food.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has a snazzy new name for the sludge.  They now call it "non-agricultural source materials" (NASM).  Sounds better than 'shit', I guess.

Environment Canada acknowledges that the spreading of sewage sludge is a risk factor in ground water contamination.  Think of all the wells dotting the rural landscape.  And yet, the practice continues.  It's economics.  The landfills are filling up, municipalities and cities need somewhere to dump their sewage that's cheap and so, they offer sewage sludge free to farmers or even, in some cases, offer to pay the farmers to take it off their hands.  Farmers, not thoroughly warned of the hazards, assured the sludge is safe, and often operating under very tight financial margins, apply it to their land.

Another critical reason to know where your food is coming from.  If you are eating commercially raised animal products, there's a pretty good chance that their feed was doused with human waste (besides being GMO).  It's also important to visit the farms, check out not only what they're doing, but what's going on around them.

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