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USDA Awards School Grant to Study Food Safety on Organic Farms

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UC Davis research will focus on manure and compost application best practices on organic farms. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has been awarded a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) to study food safety risks associated with manure and compost use in organic agriculture.

The project - led by co-PIs Drs. Alda Pires, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension specialist at the school, and Michele Jay-Russell, program manager with the Western Center for Food Safety - will gather information and evaluate best practices in animal-based biological soil amendments and compost use on organic farms through stakeholder surveys and focus groups.  A national industry workshop is also planned at UC Davis next year on this important topic for the growing organic food market.  

Certified organic producers use animal-based soil amendments like manure and compost to improve soil fertility and quality. Currently the prevention of microbial contamination of crops has been based on waiting-period criteria between application of raw manure and harvest.  However, according to the project’s co-PI Pires, the standards are based on little scientific information.

“By assessing current practices used within the industry related to raw manure versus compost use, we can work towards identifying potential food safety risks for those who consume products from organic farming,” she said.

The project is a collaboration with the Western Center for Food Safety that conducts related research, and the school’s Western Institute for Food Safety and Security , and will provide critical information to develop science-based guidelines for further research on reducing the risk of foodborne pathogens in organic agriculture. It will also help inform and guide policy such as the FDA’s proposed Produce Safety Rule that is recommending more research on waiting periods between raw manure application and harvest.