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What’s Hiding in Your Organic Fertilizer?

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The animal-based fertilizers below are commonly used in organic farming, and are found in many organic fertilizer mixes.

Manure: Cow, pig, chicken etc. This one shouldn’t shock anyone. I think we’ve all walked by a yard that had that tell- tale odor of “fresh manure-based fertilizer”. Did you know though that the manure you buy at your local gardening store may contain livestock-grade hormones and antibiotics that can be readily absorbed by the plants you are growing?

….Minnesota researchers planted corn, green onion and cabbage in manure-treated soil in 2005 to evaluate the environmental impacts of feeding antibiotics to livestock. Six weeks later, the crops were analyzed and found to absorb chlortetracycline, a drug widely used to treat diseases in livestock…

From: “Organic Farming: Supporting Factory Farms?

Feather meal: Feather meal is made from the ground feathers of birds such as chickens raised for consumption. It is partially hydrolyzed under high heat and pressure, and then ground up. Growers use this byproduct for its high nitrogen levels, despite the fact that plants cannot easily absorb it in this form.

Other misuses: Animal feed.


Bone Meal: Bones are stripped, dried, and ground. It is used for its high phosphorus and calcium content despite the fact that bone meal is dangerous to breathe and has been suggested as an agent for spreading Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) (the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy “mad cow disease”) to humans.

Do you feed your roses with bone meal? Not a good idea, says the world’s foremost expert on a group of rare diseases, found in animals, that sometimes make their way into humans. Breathing in the dust from contaminated bone meal could be deadly, says Dr. D. Carleton Gajdusek (GUY-doo-sheck), a brilliant Harvard Medical School graduate and Nobel laureate.

In his latest book, Deadly Feasts (Simon & Schuster), author Richard Rhodes traces the history of these diseases, called spongi-form encephalopathies, that reduce the brain to a spongy mass, causing their victims to stagger, fall, develop dementia and paralysis, and soon die a terrible death.”-“Mad cow disease” from feeding your roses? – Medical Update September 1, 1997. Brown, Edwin W.

Bone Meal can also be a danger to your pets. If an animal consumes a large quantity of bone meal (for their size) it will form a cement-like ball in their stomach, which may block the digestive track and need to be removed by surgery.

Other misuses: Toothpastes, vitamins and supplements (calcium), animal feed.


BONE ASH (bone earth): Consisting of the ash of burned bones, it is used in much the same way as bone meal.

Other misuses: Making of ceramics, cleaning and polishing compounds.


Fish emulsion/ Fish Hydrolysate:

Fish hydrolysate: After the human grade “edible” portions of fish are removed, the remaining fish parts, (guts, bones, cartilage, scales, meal, etc.) are ground up. This mix often has high acid based preservatives added to it to keep the contents from putrefying. The fish parts used can also contain heavy metals and toxins that the fish absorbed during its life time.

Fish emulsion: Emulsion is fish hydrolysate that has had the oils removed and proteins denatured and simplified by heating. It is used for its nitrogen phosphorus and potassium content.

Other Misuses: Farmed animal feed, companion animal food, human consumption.

Next: Other byproduct fertilizers to avoid and their vegan organic alternatives.

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Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati

Gentle World is a vegan intentional community and non-profit organization, whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition. For more information about vegan food and other aspects of a vegan lifestyle, visit the Gentle World website and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.


+ add your own
11:11PM PST on Dec 20, 2011

Scary what can be sold as "Organic" when the contents are tainted with poisons. I thought I was doing good buying the "Organic" fertilizers. I will definitely find a way to start my own composting methods in Spring!

6:10PM PST on Dec 1, 2011


6:47AM PST on Dec 1, 2011

and if the poop came from local, outside cows and horses? better yet, why not just throw grandpa and fido into your garden to rot.

10:23PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

I would be very careful about using hay as mulch. It has lots of seeds and can add to you weeds, Try straw instead.

5:21PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

Thanks for the information.

2:19PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

Thanks, I would have never guessed.

1:06PM PST on Nov 29, 2011

Try Mary's Mineral Mix - a vegan, rock powder and alfalfa meal based fertilizer developed on our certified organic farm ( Beware of products containing cottonseed meal unless you can verify the meal came from certified organic cotton. Cotton is very heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides.

10:28AM PST on Nov 29, 2011

The compostable bags which most communities require you to use for green waste are really plastic being broken down by a chemical enzyme. Tiny pieces of plastic are now scattered through most commercial compost. Better to keep your green waste and make your own least you know what is in it.

5:38AM PST on Nov 29, 2011

Thanks for the information.

12:29AM PST on Nov 29, 2011

I amend my soil with compost and in the fall i run over leaves with my mower and use it as mulch. Instead of buying chicken or cow manure which can carry diseases i use mushroom manure.

Does anybody know of any negatives in using mushroom manure. Also i put eggshells that i blend in my food processor before adding as they take a long time to break down. I add it for calcium.

Good to know about the bone meal as i didn't know it could carry diseases and that it was potentially dangerous to dogs, which i have one.

Not sure but is the article saying that using raw eggshells from my kitchen is not healthy due
to samenella. I always wash them first after cracking them.

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