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Arsenic in Poultry Litter: Organic Regulations

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By Barbara C. Bellows

Published: 2005

Updated: 2005



12 pages


Most of the arsenic used as an antibiotic in commercial broiler production ends up in the litter. Poultry litter is often used by organic producers as a fertilizer and source of organic matter for soil. Using this litter as a soil amendment is not prohibited by the National Organic Program, but 7CFR §205.203(c) of the Rule requires that "the producer must manage plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic matter content in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substances." This publication looks at the amount of arsenic in poultry litter and the potential for it building up in soil and contaminating water. Poultry litter applied at agronomic levels, using good soil conservation practices, generally will not raise arsenic concentrations sufficiently over background levels to pose environmental or human heath risks. However, recent studies show that more than 70% of the arsenic in uncovered piles of poultry litter can be dissolved by rainfall and potentially leach into lakes or streams. Thus, organic producers must take care when they handle and apply poultry litter.

Table of Contents

What is the source of the poultry litter?
How much arsenic is in poultry litter?
How much arsenic is added to the soil when you apply poultry litter?
How often is poultry litter applied to the same land?
How do soil type and soil management affect the movement and toxicity of arsenic?
How does increasing soil organic matter affect the potential for arsenic runoff or leaching?
What is the potential that arsenic from applied poultry litter will contaminate rivers, streams, lakes, or groundwater?
How does arsenic in soil affect crop growth and food safety?
Other than poultry litter, what else can contaminate soil with arsenic?
How can you remediate arsenic-contaminated soil?

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