Tales of the Red Tape #15: More Regulatory Manure from USDA

Diane Katz /

It’s impossible to imagine that the Founders conceived of America as a place where the federal government regulates compost. Yet here we are.

Effective May 9, the use of compost in the production of certified organic foods must comply with precise temperature, moisture, and chemical standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). And it took the agency only nine years to finalize the rules.

USDA claims this particular regulatory authority in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, the purpose of which is “to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

How did we ever get along without it?

Consequently, compost used in food that is labeled “organic” must originate from a plant and animal stew that reached a temperature between 131° F and 170° F for a minimum of three days using an in-vessel or static aerated pile system or a temperature of 131° F and 170° F for 15 days using a windrow composting system, during which period the materials must be turned a minimum of five times. Oh, and a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio between 25:1 and 40:1.

There’s an entirely different set of rules for vermicompost—i.e., worms. (You don’t want to know the details.)

The new compost standards, according to officials, represent the “current thinking” of the National Organic Program. Which means some future thinking may require a change in standards.

Meanwhile, states have issued their own rules, too, making organic food anything but pure and simple.

Want to read more Tales of the Red Tape? Check out these stories below:

#1: We See Dead People

#2: The EPA Is Fueling Nonsense

#3: Don’t Touch That Dial!

#4: The Unwitting Peddlers of Toxic Tomes

#5: Calorie Counts Forced Down Our Throats

#6: Equine Equality Under the ADA

#7: Energy Department Plumbing for More Regulatory Powers

#8: How Many Hazmat Suits Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?

#9: Regulators Going Off on Microwave Ovens

#10: The State Department’s Passport Inquisition

#11: Circumcising Principle in San Francisco

#12: Regulatory Grapes of Wrath

#13: An “F” for Train Regulation

#14: Old MacDonald’s Commodity Cartel