3.18.2022 – Natural Organic Reduction and H.626 Pass the House
Several years ago, I heard about another option for the disposition of human remains that had become legal in the State of Washington. We are all familiar with the practice of embalming/ burial and cremation. More recently, alkaline hydrolysis, or dissolution of the corpse in a lye bath, and green burials have become more popular.
Clearly, what one wants for oneself after death is a highly personal choice and as I have gotten older, this has been something that I’ve thought more about. Until green burials were made legal, cremation was my choice, but I was concerned about the amount of fuel that is used and the resulting carbon emissions. Then it occurred to me that I could felt my own coffin so a green burial might be the right choice, but the events in Washington changed my mind and my preference has become what’s known as Natural Organic Reduction (NOR).
As many people know, I am a sheep farmer along with my husband, Alan. When we have animal mortalities on the farm, we bury them in the manure pile and within a very short period of time there is little left of the body. It seemed to me that this would be one of the very most natural ways for a body to decompose – earth to earth.
When I heard about NOR being legalized in Washington, I decided to sponsor a bill to make it legal here as well. I introduced it with others last biennium, but it received little attention. This biennium, we reintroduced it and it became H.244, an act relating to authorizing the natural organic reduction of human remains. It was sponsored by folks from all parties and there has been a lot of energy generated behind it. The good news is that it was passed by the House and is on its way to the Senate.
When I was interviewed about NOR by VT Digger, I somewhat jokingly said that when I learned about the practice, I thought that that was what I would like for my own self when I met my demise, but I didn’t want my husband getting in trouble for burying me in the manure pile. While the companies that provide this service do not use manure, it is, essentially, the composting of one’s body and it is now legal in Colorado and Oregon, as well.
Bodies are placed in a cradle-like receptacle with a mix of wood chips, straw, and alfalfa where microbes decompose the remains in several weeks’ time. It is estimated to use an eighth of the energy required to cremate a human body and saves more than a metric ton per person who chooses this method. One’s family gets a cubic yard of soil to use in their garden or it can be donated to nourish areas that need organic matter.
I know this won’t be everyone’s choice, but if you want to learn more, you can search online for Natural Organic Reduction or look for a TEDx.talk by Katrina Spade, who is the founder of Recompose in Washington state. If we legalize this, it will take a while to establish a facility in Vermont but earlier this year, I was contacted by someone in Washington who is interested in doing just that.
H.244, has moved on to the Senate so please contact your senators if you are interested in it becoming law. What I have found remarkable is the number of people who have stopped me in the State House halls to thank me for introducing it and to tell me that this is what they would like for themselves as well.
This week also saw passage in the House of H.626, an act relating to the sale, use, and application of neonicotinoid pesticides. H.626, requires the Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (AAFM) to adopt by rule Best Management Practices (BMP) for the use of treated seeds in Vermont. The rules will be developed based on the recommendations of the Agricultural Innovation Board (AIB) and will take into consideration several factors, including threshold levels of pest pressure, the availability of untreated seed, economic impact from crop loss as compared to crop yield when treated seeds are used, relative toxicities of different treated seeds and the effects of those seeds on human health and the environment, surveillance and monitoring techniques for in-field pest pressure, ways to reduces pest harborage from conservation tillage practices, and the criteria for a system of approval of treated seeds.
Furthermore, AAFM will monitor managed pollinator (honeybee) health to establish health benchmarks and will be looking at the presence of pesticides in hives, mite and disease pressure, mite control methods, forage availability, winter survival rate, and the genetic influence on survival. The bill provides for two positions to do this work, which are paid for by revenue from the registration fees from dosage form animal health products and feed supplements.
The underlying bill called for a ban on neonicotinoid products, which we were not realistically able to do for many reasons. Farmers have already ordered their seed for the coming year and untreated seed would have had to have been ordered last August/September. Untreated seed is not widely available though in our Pollinator Protection Bill several years ago, we required that dealers providing treated seed would also have to make available untreated seed. Again, it has to be ordered well in advance.
Folks might say that rather than grow our own corn, farmers should source it from outside Vermont, but that would result in the importation of phosphorus from out of state which is the last thing we need as we try to reduce the amount of phosphorus, especially in the Lake Champlain watershed. Farmers are currently credited with 96% of the phosphorus reduction and we want to keep it that way.
There is also a fear that if neonics are banned, farmers will turn to an older class of pesticides, organophosphates, that are not only toxic to pollinators, but also to mammals, e.g., humans. Another interesting piece of information is that testing of failed hives in Vermont does not indicate a nexus with neonics. Much of the testing that has been done nationwide has been feeding studies, where pollinators are actually fed the chemical in question. Relatively few field studies have been done and the ones that have been done in Vermont do not show neonics in the failed hives.
We are looking forward to research being done this summer by UVM Extension agronomist, Dr. Heather Darby, that will give us more information on which to base future legislation. We are also proud of the fact that Vermont was the first state to establish a Seed Panel, now part of the AIB, that reviews any genetically engineered seeds before they can be sold in Vermont. We are the only state that gives the AAFM the authority to regulate treated articles such as treated lumber, telephone poles, and, yes, treated seeds. We also prohibited the sale, use, and possession of household products containing neonics several years ago. We are proud of the fact that Vermont has been a leader in reducing the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, due to the work of the Legislature.