Sunday 29 June 2008

Contaminated manure alert

Potato haulms showing typical symptoms of aminopyralid poisoning. Growth is stunted and the edges of the leaves curl upwards in a strange spoon-like pattern. Photo © Green Lane Allotments.

If you're not yet acquainted with the news that gardens and allotments across Britain are being contaminated with a toxic herbicide residue, you can read the full story in today's Observer. There's also a very detailed article (with more pictures of contaminated plants) from some of the growers affected at Green Lane Allotments, who kindly provided the photo.

The gist of it is this. Gardeners have been finding their plants growing a distorted mess of curled up leaves with an almost fernlike appearance. The leaves curl upward tightly in a spoon shape, and the plants are stunted and don't grow properly. The curled leaves get worse near the top of the plant. It's known to affect tomatoes, potatoes, peas, beans, carrots and salad vegetables, but possibly not courgettes. Fruits and tubers either don't form at all or are distorted and sometimes rotten. The symptoms are those of hormone weedkiller poisoning, and it's showing up in organic gardens.

The poisoning has been traced to manure, which most of us use abundantly on our gardens. Specifically to manure evacuated from the backsides of animals fed on hay or silage made from grass which had been sprayed with aminopyralid, a hormone herbicide made by Dow AgroScience.

Thus the buck stops with Dow AgroScience, but I think we can expect them to squirm every which way to avoid being held accountable. They'll most certainly try to blame it on the farmers. There is a reason it's called AggroScience.

Aminopyralid is used on grassland to kill off meadow weeds. It's a new product, introduced in the UK in 2006 and is not licensed for use on food crops. Treated grass is fed to livestock, and the toxin stays in the grass matter as it passes through the animals' system and lingers in the manure even after lengthy periods of stacking. Then the following season gardeners spread it on their plots. As the manure breaks down in the soil the aminopyralid is released and poisons the crops. Nobody (not even Dow) knows whether the poisoned crops are safe to eat or not, because the stuff has never been tested on food crops.

I certainly add my voice to those calling for an immediate withdrawal of aminopyralid products and for some chain of accountability.

If you think you've got aminopyralid poisoning in your garden, I suggest you get in touch with one of the campaign groups like the one at Green Lane Allotments or refer to their blogs for the latest advice on how to deal with it. The RHS also has an information page about it. There may be some chance of making Dow face up to their responsibilities if confronted with enough evidence from enough people.

If you don't yet have a problem, I suggest being extremely careful about sourcing manure, including bagged compost products that may contain it ... or avoid manure altogether for the moment. If you buy hay to feed to animals whose manure you then spread on the garden, be very cautious even if your hay comes from a trusted supplier. The problem has been reported across the whole of the British Isles but I'm not sure what the situation is in other countries. It's also important not to panic if you see poor growth or distorted leaves in your vegetable plants ... the symptoms of aminopyralid poisoning are very specific. If your plants don't look like the photo above, you haven't got it.


The Allotment Blogger said...

Wow, thanks for the heads-up! We don't have it (thank heavens) but an allotment neighbour was complaining of exactly this problem at the weekend and she had a load of manure delivered to her plot in March which she then dug carefully into her tomato bed ... I think you've solved the mystery, if not the problem!

Kath said...

I've heard several reports about this on a gardening forum I belong to. I'm frankly appalled that this stuff can get into the food chain, and is affecting those very people who grow their own vegetables to avoid chemical input.

Fortunately I'm one of those indolent gardeners who are always going to source some manure 'next week' and my plants are mainly fed on home made compost. There ARE advantages to being a lazy blighter then!

Matron said...

Good heavens! this is a tragedy! not to use manure on my veggie patch? I am amazed such a herbicide was ever allowed to be sold - for any reason. Scarey stuff.

Anonymous said...

Use whatever photo you want form my website or blog.
If you can't access form the blog then mail me via the email link on my sidebar and I'll send you one of the photos - just say which one.

Actually in you go to the website there is one that has several photographs in a collage see

Anonymous said...

Green Lane Again
Sorry for the typos on previous message. From visitors emails to my website it would seem that the problem is not confined to manure some gardeners suspect bagged products see

Rebsie Fairholm said...

Thanks Green Lane. I've added a mention of bagged products to the blog post.

Veg Heaven - lazy or not, self-sufficiency in the garden is the way to go, even if it's an unattainable ideal for most of us. I was lazy this year too and bought in some overpriced commercial bagged manure from a local nursery. I'm kind of glad I did now, because it's turned out to be trouble-free.

Matron - let's hope sense will prevail and this damaging product will be withdrawn from sale as soon as possible.

Compostwoman said...

Well done for posting on this ! I am also doing my best to warn folks....

but be careful if you have any small pets...where does the bedding hay come from...or if you have hens...where do you get the straw from?

also be aware that UNLESS that "organic " bag of manure or compost you bought actually has a certification symbol on it ( eg Soil Association/ Organic Farmers and Growrs / HDRA etc...) then "Organic" means absolutely nothing......

There are NO legal restrictions on using the word "Organic" wrt compost etc...unlike food stuffs!

Anonymous said...

I live in France and have a large vegetable garden.

I contacted DOW chimicals, after checking they said that aminopyralid products were not sold in Europe.

I have heard that it is not welcome outside the UK.

Pesticides Registration & Enforcement Policy
Pesticides Safety Directorate
Mallard House, Kings Pool
3 Peasholme Green

tell me that it is licensed in Germany.

This does not mean it is sold there and I am checking for trade names.

I asked the registration enforcement "which crops are safe to grow?

they replied:I mentioned plants that we know are particularly sensitive to
this active, however, this is a herbicide that is only approved for use
on grassland, it has not been evaluated for how it would react on any
other crop. As it is used to kill broad leaf weeds it could cause
damage to any broad leaf plant. Therefore it is not possible to give you
a list of crops that it would definitely not damage.

Since I first emailed you PSD have added a further update on this
situation to our website it can be viewed on the following link

I have suggested that they change the information they give to the public to "No crops are safe with this product"

All very annoying when all I want to do is get on with my garden but hopefully if enough of us write in there will be a change as this is serious. I hope that people with information will use this blog facility.

Good luck with your blog!

Kath said...

I understand from recent press reports that it is now being withdrawn. Too late for people who have used contaminated product this your though. We do need to make a fuss when this sort of thing happens.

Unknown said...

Hi Rebsie!

I just popped by to say that I've given you a Brilliant Blogger Award!

Sue Garrett said...

Just to add to veg heaven's post.
The chemical has only been withdrawn on a temporary basis pending further investigation re the use of manure and farmers told it is OK to store it.

Even if the chemical is never used again (which is probably unlikely) then the effects will be with us for a couple more years due to the persistence in stored manure.

Also t would appear that the soil association allow limited use of non-organic manure!

I have created a page re What does organic mean on our web site

Sue Garrett said...

Sorry the web link was truncated so I'll spread it across two rows

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this i t was really helpful
i think it is ever so generous of you to take your time to post this!


Sue Garrett said...

Aminopyralid licence is being considered for reinstatement see

it is still a problem for 2009 see

We need far more publicity to make sure gardeners, farmers and stable owners are aware of the problem so anything anyone can do to this end please do.

Sue Garrett said...

I don't know how else to contact you to ask if you caould change the URLs on this posting.

I have had to move my website and I know many people are still accessing the manure information.

My webiste is now

The information about manure is all accessed from

Hope you can help keep this information alive by changing the info as now AP is relicenced it is important that we are alerted if any new problems arise

Rebsie Fairholm said...

The links in this article have now been updated. Thanks for all your efforts on this issue.

Cheryl Long said...

This issue has been a problem in the U.S., too, for many years. Here's some background along with a method to test materials to be sure they are not contaminated:

Cheryl Long
Mother Earth News

Sue Garrett said...

Just to update - the website pages about contaminated manue has move to