I produce vermicompost tea from dairy waste that is first thermophilically composted to kill all pathogens and weed seeds. Under various food-safety protocols, can I apply this on soil and plants?
Answer: Until the Food Safety Modernization Act is implemented (which may be right around the corner), food-safety protocols will continue to vary slightly from one program to another. For this reason, you may need to ask whichever GAPs/food safety auditor you use for guidance on this issue. Chances are, most auditors wouldn’t approve of applying compost tea topically to plants and may not even approve soil applications, although the latter would be less risky. You also need to consider your market–if the grocery store you’re selling to requires a certain set of procedures, you’ve got to follow them or lose the market.Either way, it is a good idea to develop your own food-safety plan, which you can do with the assistance of templates and instructions provided by the University of Minnesota, available at http://safety.cfans.umn.edu/. In this plan, you should state that you will get your compost tea tested in a laboratory for human pathogens and that you will keep records to document this. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) provides guidelines on compost and has also issued a task force report on the use of compost tea. While raw manure must be applied at least 120 days prior to harvest, properly composted manure can be applied directly. See page 20 of ATTRA’s Guide for Organic Crop Producers for the NOP’s guidelines on composting procedures, which outline specific requirements for the length of time a certain temperature should be maintained while making compost, as well as proper aeration. This publication also discusses compost tea and vermicompost. It is available https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=67.Compost tea made with additives (such as molasses) may increase the prevalence of human pathogens. To learn more, see the Compost Tea Task Force Report, by the National Organic Standards Board,at http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5058470. For further information, see the ATTRA publication Illustrated Guide to Growing Safe Produce on Your Farm, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=350.The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOSES) also has a useful publication titled Update on Compost Tea: Benefits, Risks, Regulation, which is available at www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Spring2004/
CompostTea/tabid/1357/Default.aspx. Rodale New Farm Research Report published a study titled Compost tea research enters its second year: study aims to shed light on current debates over the safety and efficacy of compost tea as an organic material, available at http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/depts/NFfield_trials/0404/tea.shtml.Finally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a lengthy document in 1998 titled FDA Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. The PDF is available at www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/