Warning as horse manure tainted with weedkiller kills vegetables

STABLE owners have been warned not to buy hay contaminated with a weedkiller which the Soil Association says may pose a threat to human health.

A commercial composter, which processes horse manure, has written to the yard owners who supply manure asking them to sign a declaration confirming they won’t buy hay that has been sprayed with the weedkiller called Forefront.

The weedkiller eradicates over 60 broadleaf weeds including buttercups, thistles and chicory. But it passes through a horse’s system intact to contaminate its manure, with the resulting compost then stunting or killing vegetables. Much of the compost is being sold under an organic label.

The director of the Soil Association, Patrick Holden, has written to environment secretary Hilary Benn calling for the weedkiller to be banned immediately.

In the letter to Mr Benn dated 2 July he wrote: “It has now been discovered that this chemical can remain active, damage subsequent crops and can pose a human health threat. I hope you will take immediate steps to have the chemical withdrawn from use.”

The possible dangers of the weedkiller were brought to H&H’s attention by Jason Ingold, manager of Team Truxford livery stable, near Guildford in Surrey. Mr Ingold was asked by industrial composting company Harrington & Jessop, makers of organic compost, to sign a declaration saying he did not buy hay or haylage which had been sprayed with the weedkiller called Forefront.

The Forefront brand is a product of US chemical giant Dow AgroSciences. The chemical residue which has devastated many vegetable growers’ crops is an aminopyralid chemical, a selective hormone weedkiller.

A National Farmers Union spokesperson said: “Because Forefront is very effective, it’s grown in popularity since it was introduced in 2006 — as you don’t have to respray.”

Mr Ingold said: “Harrington & Jessop want me to sign a disclaimer. If I don’t sign it they won’t take my muck away. I’ve got 27 stables. Any livery yard our size would have a big problem if they couldn’t dispose of their manure. Luckily, none of my four suppliers use Forefront.”

Peter Harrington, a director of Harrington & Jessop which advertises its product as “natural organic compost”, said: “I spoke to Dow the week before last and they side-stepped it. I don’t know whether Defra can put pressure on them. I know allotment owners have suffered. We’re just trying to be a responsible company.”

A loophole in EU legislation means the term “organic”, when applied to compost, is outside the stringent regulations which apply to the labelling of food.

The Dow website makes no bones that food coming into contact with manure containing aminopyralids should not be eaten: “As a general rule, we suggest damaged produce (however this is caused) should not be consumed. If you believe that the manure or compost you are using may contain herbicide residues, it should NOT (Dow’s capital letters) be spread on ground intended for food crops.”

Read the full story in today’s Horse & Hound, 17 July.