What is the latest news on using bone meal in the garden? I have heard conflicting views – some people swear by it, others say it’s worthless since most of the nutrient value is eliminated during the steaming process it undergoes, and then others are concerned about possibly introducing disease into the garden since this product is derived from animal bones. Please help clear up the confusion.
Bone meal is a source of slow-release phosphorus. Most retail bone meal products are coupled with slow-release nitrogen. Both of these elements are significant to good plant health and growth. They affect the plant’s vigor, its photosynthesis process, and its root growth. Many people add bone meal to their soil as a safety net. Perhaps it’s a little like taking a daily vitamin. They feel its nutrient value offsets any problems inherent in poor or unamended soil conditions. Most homeowners want quick results with minimum preparation. The plants respond accordingly to this organic fertilizer.
The commercial bone meal products available in the U.S. must meet stringent USDA regulations. The USDA has not allowed British beef or cattle-generated products to be imported. According to the USDA, during the late 1970’s England started using a heat-only method of treating animal carcasses that were to be used for protein-based meal and bone meal. Prior to that time, they used a combination of heat and solvent extraction. The USDA knows that heat plus solvent extraction kills the BSE causal organism (or mad cow disease), but heat without solvent extraction does not. The U.S. has never abandoned the heat plus solvent extraction method. It seems very unlikely that we need to be concerned about using bone meal in our gardens for fear of contracting BSE. The U.S. has never had a confirmed case even though the USDA has been actively looking for cases since 1989. Our method of preparing bone meal kills the BSE organism but does not dissipate the nutrient value.