A new study finds animal compost may prevent harmful microorganisms from surviving in farm fields. The research, published today in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, could inspire changes in soil management. Some farms have veered away from animal compost in favor of synthetic fertilizers in part because of fear the compost would introduce pathogens that, when they hitch a ride on fresh produce, make people sick.  

Researchers from UC Davis, the ARS office in Albany, Calif., and Washington State University took soil samples from a longstanding organic soil management study and from soil treated with synthetic fertilizer and spiked them in the lab with listeria and salmonella. They found only the samples with animal compost created a microbial community that starved the pathogens, reducing their survival. 

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Lead author Naresh Devarajan, a UC Davis postdoctoral researcher, says existing research demonstrates the soil health benefits of animal compost. This study found “it could also bolster food safety.” 

He said the next step will be to isolate the specific bacteria responsible for suppressing the pathogens to explore “a management method” that would amplify those soil microbes and prevent the illness-causing bugs from getting into the food supply. 

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