By Virginia Brunton, MRA Consulting Group
The horticultural market for compost is huge. In Australia, there are 10,000 fruit and vegetable farms on approximately 400,000ha. At least 120,000ha are used to grow annual crops such as vegetables.
Many growers are located close to compost production facilities and have a high demand for quality compost. That potentially represents a 4 million tonne market.
Make sure its Compliant Compost!
Vegetable growers across Australia must comply with strict requirements to ensure the food they produce is safe for consumers.
In response, Freshcare, MRA Consulting Group (MRA) and Applied Horticultural Research (AHR) have joined together to develop a quality standard for compost that is acceptable under the Freshcare code of practice and other food safety quality assurance systems.
How does Compliant Compost work with Food Safety Programs?
Food safety programs such as Freshcare, SQF and HARPS all restrict the use of untreated products containing manures on crops. This particularly applies to vegetables grown in or near the soil and which may be eaten uncooked. For example, Freshcare requires that untreated manures are not applied within 90 days of product harvest. This withholding period increases to 365 days under HARPS, effectively excluding manures from use on most vegetable farms.
In contrast, compost that has been treated to kill human pathogens can be used freely. However, evidence needs to be provided that appropriate processing and application methods are adhered. Until now, this meant the compost producer (farm or commercial manufacturer) had to either:
- Be certified to AS4454, and provide evidence of this with the product;
- Have a documented, verified treatment process; and
- Test each batch to show it contained <100 CFU coli/100g and Salmonella spp. not detected in 25g.
Without this evidence compost, particularly if it contains manure, food waste, or animal products, is considered “untreated”. It therefore attracts the same restrictions as raw manure.
Accreditation to AS4454 is about a lot more than food safety. It includes consideration of issues such as physical properties, nutritional levels and chemical characteristics. The standard is complex, making it expensive to maintain and audit. Certification to this standard is therefore uneconomic for many compost producers, including growers who make compost on-farm.
To overcome this issue, a new, voluntary standard is available for on-farm and commercial compost producers. ‘Compliant compost’ is a simple, one-page code of practice that can be assessed by approved auditors at the same time as other accredited standards (e.g. Freshcare), minimising audit costs. Certification is designed to be easy for smaller producers, including farmers making compost on-site.
The code is focused on food safety and demonstrating that the compost will not introduce human pathogens into the environment. Compost certified using the “compliant compost” system can therefore be used on farms without restriction.
An information pack is now available about the standard including:
- Information on developing an approved, documented treatment process for making compost on farm;
- Equipment and records required; and
- How and when to test the composted product.
Farmers purchasing compost should be asking their supplier for a copy of their Compliant Compost certificate. According to Freshcare CEO, Clare Hamilton-Bate:
“Freshcare certified businesses that are using organic amendments will be demanding a certificate from their supplier demonstrating that the compost provided meets the new standard. Any grower making their own compost must also ensure the products are certified ‘Compliant’, and therefore safe to use”.
As MRA’s lead organics consultant, I would like to remind all compost producers, large and small, that you are required to have the compost production process and products assessed against this standard. For those producers that already have AS4454 certification it is simply a matter of providing that certificate. For processors not certified to AS4454, including farmers producing their own compost, an audit against the Compliant Compost standard is required.
The audit is a straight forward process that checks the production system, time/temperature records (demonstrating that pasteurisation thresholds are being met) and microbial test data.
Farmers and compost producers can arrange an audit and certification through MRA.
For information on having a Compliant Compost audit and certification, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This project is supported by the NSW Environment Protection Authority as part of “Waste Less Recycle More”, funded from the waste levy.
As always, we welcome your feedback on this, or any other topic on ‘The Tipping Point’.