Sewage Sludge Protesters Sling Mud at Chez Panisse

The good folks who earlier this month gallivanted into Mayor Gavin Newsom's office outfitted in HazMat suits and brandishing jars of compost will be doling out the charm again tomorrow — at Chez Panisse. The Organic Consumers Association, via a not overheated at all press release announced they'll be crashing the Berkeley cafe in protest of proprietor Alice Waters' alleged fondness for growing food for needy kids in toxin-infested vats of steaming human excrement.

In actuality, the Organic Consumers Association's beef is a bit more arcane. San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission has for years given away sewage-derived compost to all takers — and was, rightfully, chided for using the term “organic” to describe the bags of reconstituted waste. A member of the Chez Panisse Foundation's board, Francesca Vietor, is a PUC vice president. Therefore, in the eyes of the compost activists, “Both Vietor and Waters support growing food on toxic sewage sludge.”

While the Organic Consumers Association's rhetoric, actions, and Lyndon LaRouche-like logic might lead casual observers to label them as zealots — there is a method behind this madness. In 2008, a Georgia judge sided with angry farmers claiming their cows were sickened by silage grown on sewage-derived compost; “The administrative record contains evidence that

senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific

dissent and any questioning of the EPA's biosolids program,” wrote Judge Anthony Alaimo.

Lauren Fondahl, an EPA environmental engineer in San Francisco, noted that the compost given away by San Francisco is tested for nine key pollutants — but not for many others that could lead to toxic results. But here's the rub — no compost is tested for these additional toxins. Compost derived from sewage is not necessarily “dirtier” than former table scraps or garden clippings — though the notion of sewage is inherently revolting, and induces a visceral reaction.  

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