Researchers find multiple effects on soil from manure from cows administered antibiotics

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For the study, researchers analyzed ecosystems exposed to manure from cattle given no antibiotics and manure from cattle given a common antibiotic, as well as a control sample not exposed to manure.


Use of antibiotics is under heightened scrutiny due to the increased prevalence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. While the primary focus is on more stringent use of antibiotics in medical settings, the use of antibiotics in the livestock sector is gaining increased attention.

A new study led by Colorado State University and the University of Idaho found multiple effects on soils from exposure to manure from cows administered antibiotics, including alteration of the soil microbiome and ecosystem functions, soil respiration and elemental cycling.

The team also saw changes in how plants allocated carbon below ground and take up nitrogen from the soil. In addition, they observed a decrease in ecosystem carbon use efficiency. This means that when antibiotics are used, less carbon is stored in the soil and more is lost to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

The study, “Prolonged exposure to manure from livestock-administered antibiotics decreases ecosystem carbon-use efficiency and alters nitrogen cycling,” is published Oct. 9 in Ecology Letters.

Carl Wepking, the lead author and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology at CSU, said the findings give him “pause” due to the widespread use of antibiotics.

“There’s no environment on earth that is free from the effects of antibiotics,” he said.

In the U.S., 80 percent of antibiotics are used in livestock production. Globally, livestock antibiotic use is projected to increase by 67 percent by the year 2030.

For the study, researchers analyzed ecosystems exposed to manure from cattle given no antibiotics and manure from cattle given a common antibiotic, as well as a control sample not exposed to manure. All of the manure samples were collected from standard dairy operations maintained by researchers from the Virginia Tech Department of Dairy Science.

Previous research on this topic found researchers injecting antibiotics into manure, then adding it to the soil, or adding raw antibiotics to the soil, said Wepking. The design of this study offered a much more realistic and applicable design.

The research team also used a pulse-chase experiment, a technique to examine elemental cycling, focusing on the manure’s effect on whole ecosystems. Scientists took samples over the course of seven days, and found that in the presence of antibiotics, carbon traveled into the above ground plant material, to the roots of the plants, into the soil and respired back out as carbon dioxide much faster than any of the others.

“There was much less of that new carbon retained in the system compared with other soils we sampled,” explained Wepking, who also serves as executive director of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative, which is housed in the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at CSU.

It’s often thought that manure is a helpful fertilizer, and that it adds nutrients and carbon to soil but this benefit might be offset if antibiotics are administered to livestock.

While more research is needed, Wepking said given the study’s findings, people may want to consider the effects of antibiotics in the soil when using manure as fertilizer.

“Research is expanding more and more, to look at antibiotic exposure and resistance in agricultural landscapes,” said Wepking. “It’s already well-documented that overuse of antibiotics is a problem for humans, and that we are running out of effective antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. Based on this research, we have learned that antibiotic use also has environmental effects.”


Co-authors of the study include Michael Strickland and Jane Lucas (University of Idaho); Brian Badgley, John Barrett, Katharine Knowlton and Sarah Shawver (Virginia Tech); Kevan Minick (North Carolina State University); and Partha Ray (University of Reading).

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

The world needs topsoil to grow 95% of its food – but it’s rapidly disappearing

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Susan Cosier

Without efforts to rebuild soil health, we could lose our ability to grow enough nutritious food to feed the planet’s population

 The Sarigua desert, west of Panama City, Panama, seen after overgrazing by livestock and the loss of topsoil through erosion. Photograph: Tomas Munita/AP

The world grows 95% of its food in the uppermost layer of soil, making topsoil one of the most important components of our food system. But thanks to conventional farming practices, nearly half of the most productive soil has disappeared in the world in the last 150 years, threatening crop yields and contributing to nutrient pollution, dead zones and erosion. In the US alone, soil on cropland is eroding 10 times faster than it can be replenished.

If we continue to degrade the soil at the rate we are now, the world could run out of topsoil in about 60 years, according to Maria-Helena Semedo of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Without topsoil, the earth’s ability to filter water, absorb carbon, and feed people plunges. Not only that, but the food we do grow will probably be lower in vital nutrients.

The modern combination of intensive tilling, lack of cover crops, synthetic fertilizers and pesticide use has left farmland stripped of the nutrients, minerals and microbes that support healthy plant life. But some farmers are attempting to buck the trend and save their lands along with their livelihoods.

“We never want to see our soil unless we go looking for it,” says Keith Berns, a Nebraska farmer whose land hasn’t seen a plow in three decades.

He and his brother, Brian, began the practice of no-till on their 2,100-acre corn and soybean farm when they learned it could increase the carbon, nutrients and water available in the soil. Their farm is in a particularly dry area of the country, and keeping moisture on their land is a top priority. For every 1% increase of carbon, an acre of land can hold an additional 40,000 gallons of water.

Once they stopped tilling, the Berns family saw organic matter in the soil increase, which can have the added benefit of making foods grown in the soil more nutritious.

Organic matter, a section of soil that contains decomposing plant or animal tissue, serves as a reservoir of nutrients that microbes can feast upon while they provide nitrogen to growing plants and sequester carbon. The more organic matter, the more organisms the soil can support.

Cannabis: a remedy for the soil?

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Julian Vigo 

Hemp offers untold benefits for the soil, production processes, renewable fuel and sustainable fashion.

The internet has been awash in new health apps to improve sleep and wellness and an enormous amount of information on CBD oil, a product derived from cannabis, also commonly known as the source of marijuana.

Of cannabis’ compounds called cannabinoids are two primary components: THC and CBD, the latter is its non-psychoactive component. CBD has been rebranded – it was previously known as hemp oil and is also called cannabis oil and cannabidiol. 

CBD is heavily marketed in the EU and is sold to remedy everything from pain relief to stress to depression. While some have questioned the benefits of CBD, there is some hope that this marketing drive towards CBD might open up more awareness of benefits that cannabis in all its forms might offer the planet. 

Ecological benefits

While the chemical ecology of cannabis is largely unknown to most, the reality is that the cannabis plant is turning out to be one of the best responses to our planet’s current demise.

The recreational and medicinal uses of cannabis are far more widely publicised today due to the growing trend of legalisation (although cannabis with THC remains illegal in the UK), in addition to the expansion of cannabis dispensaries

But what is less emphasised in the media today are the may uses of the cannabis plant in addition to its added benefits to the soil. Unlike cotton and many other plants used in textile, hemp needs less water and requires no pesticides, allows for soil remediation (phytoremediation) – whereby hemp can absorb pollutants from the earth – and it returns 60-70 percent of the nutrients it takes from the soil.

The cannabis plant has a wide range of uses which makes its cultivation both a boon for the ecology as well as for nutrition among other uses. This plant can provide oil used for cooking, fuel, personal care products, dietary supplements, beverages, baked goods, protein powder, beer, flour and animal feed.

Beyond this, hemp is used in building materials (fiberboard, insulation, cement and mortar), paper products and industrial textiles. Additionally, there are myriad agricultural benefits from this plant: it suppresses weeds, its roots provide soil aeration and it allows for pollen isolation.  

Production benefits

What this means for the planet is that hemp offers the most far ranging uses for our sustainability. For instance, hemp requires half the amount of water that cotton needs to produce a 250 percent higher yield than cotton because when processing is figured into the water usage equation, “cotton uses more than four times as much water as hemp”.

Cotton production relies on pesticides while hemp does not and hemp is naturally resistant to pests as its dense foliage provides enough shade to prevent or suppress weed growth. 

From industrial hemp farming which is expected to almost double in growth by 2026 to “pick-your-own” hemp fields, the future of textile is quickly moving towards a hemp-based production in North America.

Earlier this month New York Fashion Week’s runway show by Korto Momolu showcased her collection consisting of 26 designs created from hemp fabric among other sustainably-manufactured textiles.

Where the CBD craze is being pushed endlessly online, hemp production for textiles is the best possible outcome of what might end up being a passing fad.

The positive by-product of this current rage is that hemp production is having a boost and many fashion designers are advocating for more sustainable textiles such as bamboo and hemp. Even Levi’s has gotten behind the momentum and recently released styles made with “cottonised hemp.” As hemp is 100 percent biodegradable, this fabric is becoming more and more the harbinger to future fashion.

Renewable fuel 

As for the possible transportation benefits, hemp is a replacement for non-renewable energy sources despite the many challenges that hemp biodiesel made from Cannabis Sativa Linn. Still, many scientific studies such as “Advantages and Challenges of Hemp Biodiesel Production” (2015) see great promise in expanding hemp for biodiesel production. 

This study notes the following: “Hemp seeds present a viable feedstock option for biodiesel production. This is demonstrated by the plant’s high yield, ability to grow on infertile soil, resilience to disease and bugs.

“Hemp biodiesel may be used an alternative to the highly controversial biodiesel produced from palm oil. Legalization and increased production of hemp oil may improve the cost of producing hemp oil and subsequently hemp biodiesel.”

This report makes astonishing findings, among which it notes its potential to be used as a primary feedstock and for the purpose of the production of biodiesel fuel.

It states: “When compared with similar crops that are used in large-scale commercial biodiesel production, hemp provides a substantially greater yield and has a higher oil content than that of rapeseed and soybean.

“In addition, biodiesel made from hempseed can meet the ATSM D6751 and EN 14214 requirement for fuel quality and surpass that of conventional diesel except in the area of oxidation stability, as is the case with other biodiesel products. However, the oxidation stability can be improved with the addition of antioxidants to the fuel prolonging its shelf life.”

Positive change 

Among all of hemp’s uses today and potential uses for the future, we must move our fashion, transport and purchasing habits towards that of sustainable oils, fabrics and fuels.

We must also sit down and write to our politicians urging them for the adoption of hemp throughout industrial and local enterprises in addition to paving the way for the legalisation of this plant.  

Where biofuel from hemp has been consistently side-lined from the discussions on climate change throughout the years,  there is always promise that researchers will turn this paradigm around and realise what was Henry Ford’s dream car and bring hemp biofuel into the future of transportation. 

It is only through political, social and personal changes that we can bring about positive changes to our ecological reality.

This Author

Julian Vigo is an independent scholar and filmmaker who specializes in anthropology, technology, and political philosophy. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (2015). She is a contributor to ForbesQuilletteTruthDigDissident VoiceBlack Agenda ReportThe Morning Star and The Ecologist.


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There is a serious decline in bees, other pollinators, birds, hedgehogs, bats and other small mammals. One of the main factors is chemical faming – 96% of arable farmland is treated with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides & synthetic fertilisers. We need to return to safe, sustainable methods – organic/veganic farming.

Synthetic fertilisers have a carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint; although the main global warming gas is CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are also significant heat trapping gases. Both CH4 and N2O are produced in appreciable amounts by livestock production. N2O also destroys ozone.

What can you do? Cut out (or greatly reduce) meat and dairy foods, prioritize organic foods & send this to your MP and the Minister of Agriculture. (Full text below)

Download pdf’s to print & post:

saving planet earth postcard side 1

saving planet earth postcard side 2

“The livestock sector emerges as one of the top 2 or 3 most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency. Major reductions in impact could be achieved at reasonable costs.” UNITED NATIONS summary Livestock’s Long Shadow 2006.

In 2006 when the United Nations report Livestock’s Long Shadow was published, the then Government did nothing to inform the public about the methane and nitrous oxide threat. We ask this Government to take the following steps:
– Inform the public of all planned steps to counter Climate Change.
The EU is actively encouraging organic production – e.g. In Austria the figure exceeds 20% and many government’s subsidise organics – however in the UK less than 4% of farmland is used organically. France and Denmark recently set 50% and 40% reduction in pesticides.
We ask that the UK government:
– Urgently adopt similar reduction in pesticide use (50%).
– Introduce pesticide tax (like Denmark) to fund environmental clean up.
– Set a target of 20% of farmland to be organic or in conversion by 2022.

Write to your MP to make our environment & future a priority

House of Commons

Include your name and postcode and ask for a response, giving youe email or phone no.

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland, according to Guardian article:

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” he said. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”



Can you spot the creatures on the card:

  • Small copper butterfly
  • Common blue butterfly
  • Cinnabar moth
  • Skylark
  • Yellow wagtail
  • Bullfinch
  • Greater horseshoe bat
  • Hedgehog
  • Common frog
  • Common toad
  • Water vole
  • Short tailed bumblebee
  • Long tailed bumblebee
  • Beetle (nebriasalina)

Also see:

Download pdf’s to print & post:

saving planet earth postcard side 1

saving planet earth postcard side 2

For supplies of the card phone 01246 473902

Designed and written by Sian Winstanley and Maya Winstanley-Brown

Win Vegepod at London Vegfest

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Win a Vegpod at London Vegfest for FREE at Vegan Organic Network stall on second floor.

Prize – 1 X Small Vegepod on a Stand and a winter cover

Value – £198 rrp

Competition T’s and C’s:

Become a new subscriber to VON’s free newsletter at the show and go in the draw to win a small vegepod voted Best Small Space Growing Product 2019.

Grow all year around with Vegepod
Get your vegan organic vegetables growing with Vegepod. Vegepods are a great way to keep your vegetable harvest protected during the cooler months. Available in three sizes, Vegepod’s come complete with a commercial grade canopy made of fine mesh designed to let in sunlight, air and rain, all necessary elements for successful growing. The canopy is clipped into the base and keeps out nasty bugs and slugs.

As friends of the Vegan Organic Network, Vegepod are offering all VON subscribers 10% off the RRP of any Vegepod with stand or trolley combination. To redeem your discount, enter VON10 on check out at