When Is Manure a Product or Bacteria an Environmental Condition

A recent Wisconsin court case found manure spread on a farmer's field is a product; but once the manure runs-off into his well, the bacteria in the fertilizer is an environmental hazard, not part of the product.  For the purpose of this discussion, let's assume the bacteria residing normally in the well is distinguishable from the bacteria normally residing in manure.

 

Illness from bacteria involves the species of bacteria and its population.  The population is measured in "colony forming units" (CFU)  Homogenized milk might be home to 10,000,000 microbes per ounce, which is a healthy addition to your digestive system, no problem.  Anthrax can make you very ill at 100,000 CFUs.

 

The court struggles with the origin of the bacteria, and the factors raising its population to pathogenic levels.  Something of a chicken and egg question.  The bacteria in cow manure will be those found in milk, think about the host for both.  If the population of human health-threatening bacteria in the well is increased by feeding them manure, then the manure is a product and the bacteria is a contaminant.

 

Where will this finding be applied next?  Consider the food service industry.  Will restaurant dishes now be considered the product while salmonella is an environmental contaminant?  Do restaurants need to begin investigating environmental liability policies?  Yes.

 

Don't overreact to this news.  Each state individually regulates insurance.  Wisconsin folks might need to review their options if the appeals court upholds this division of bacteria and source. 

 

Ask your professional agent to read the policy language in your general liability products form and interpret the environmental exclusion.  These policies have different language.  Redouble your efforts to eliminate any bacteria which could be a health hazard.  Follow health department guidelines, particularly for food handling.

 

Every business will be affected by this ruling.  Good risk management analyzes exposure in advance of the crisis.  Where can bacterial infections originate in your operation?

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