Organic Growers Using Synthetic Fertilizers

For up to seven years, one of the largest organic fertilizer companies in California sold a fertilizer approved by organic regulators that contained the synthetic fertilizer ammonium sulfate. According to documents obtained by the Sacramento Bee through a Public Records Act request, California Department of Food and Agriculture officials were notified of the problem in June 2004, but did not order California Liquid Fertilizer to remove its product, Biolizer XN, from the organic market until January 2007.

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The product, which was brewed from fish and chicken feathers, held as much as a third of the state’s market by 2006. The state did not pursue harsh penalties against the company, which was based near Salinas, CA, because officials said it would have delayed removal of the product from the market, the newspaper reported. California Certified Organic Farmers, which certifies about 80% of the state’s organic acreage, did not penalize the farms that used the product because the growers did not know they were using an unapproved chemical.

One of the growers was Earthbound Farm, the nation’s largest grower/shipper of organic produce, which stated they were “defrauded” by the makers of Biolizer XN. In a written statement, the San Juan Bautista company, whose growers farm a total of 33,000 acres, noted that the product was endorsed as organic by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). The company said it acted quickly after learning it contained synthetic fertilizer.

Soon after Biolizer XN was taken off the market, the company formed a department of quality, food safety, and organic integrity, said company spokeswoman Samantha Cabaluna. To protect the organic integrity of their crops, they have instituted a stringent organic verification process for all liquid fertilizers: any of their 150 farmers using any kind of liquid fertilizer must subject it to
nitrogen testing and process validation by an independent, third-party lab.

The company also noted that their farmers fertilize with a variety of methods, including cover crops, so this liquid fertilizer was not the only source of fertility for their crops. The statement concludes: “All of us who believe in the benefits of organic food and farming must take responsibility for defending and protecting the integrity of the organic standards.”