||This article needs more medical references for verification or relies too heavily on primary sources. (July 2014)|
An effective microorganism refers to any of the predominantly anaerobic organisms blended in commercial agricultural amendments or for environmental applications such as for septic tanks. EM products are purported to support sustainable practices in farming, improve composting operations, and to reduce environmental pollution.
Many of the so-called "pit additives" used for improving the performance of sanitation systems, namely pit latrines, septic tanks and wastewater treatment plants, are also based on Effective Microorganisms. Despite the claims made by manufacturers, available studies which have used scientific methods to investigate these additives have come to the conclusion that long-term beneficial effects are not proven.
In his presentational essay "EM®: A Holistic Technology For Humankind", Higa vaguely states:"I developed a mixture of microbes, using the very common species found in all environments as extensively used in the food industry–namely Lactic Acid Bacteria, Photosynthetic Bacteria an[d] Yeasts. It never contained any genetically manipulated species and never will. EM®, which was developed by accident (..) is safe, low in cost (..) People in some countries even drink it."
|EM constituents||Natural occurrence||Example species|
|lactic acid bacteria||plant surfaces, soil, dairy||lactobacillus casei|
|phototrophic bacteria||ubiquitous||rhodopseudomonas palustris|
|other bacteria||ubiquitous microorganisms that exist naturally in the environment||actinomycetales|
|yeasts||skins of fruits/berries/crops, soil, insects||saccharomyces cerevisiae|
|nutrient solution||pH 3.5 to 3.8 |
The concept of "friendly microorganisms" was invented by Professor Teruo Higa, from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan. He invented and marketed anaerobic "Bokashi" composting and "Effective Microorganisms" (EM) additives and supplements. The official foundation story is :"One day while working he [Teruo Higa] spilled some microorganisms near a few shrubs and some days after he noted that the plants were growing abundantly well. With this he continued his studies to find out what was the best combination of beneficial microorganism until EM™ was formally introduce[d] as a soil conditioner."
Higa propagated in the 1980s that a combination of approximately 80 different microorganisms was capable of positively influencing decomposing organic matter such that it reverts into a "life promoting" process. Higa invoked a "dominance principle" to explain the effects of his "Effective Microorganisms". He claimed that three groups of microorganisms existed: "positive microorganisms" (regeneration), "negative microorganisms" (decomposition, degeneration), "opportunist microorganisms". In every medium (soil, water, air, the human intestine), the ratio of "positive" and "negative" microorganisms was critical, since the opportunist microorganisms followed the trend to regeneration or degeneration. Therefore, Higa claimed that it was possible to positively influence the given media by supplementing with "positive" microorganisms.
The concept has been challenged and no scientific studies support all of its claims. This was acknowledged by Higa in a 1994 paper co-authored by Higa and soil microbiologist James F Parr. They conclude "the main limitation...is the problem of reproducibility and lack of consistent results.".
Parr and Higa mention soil pH, shading, soil temperature and flooding as factors affecting the interaction of EM with local microorganisms and with each other. The approach that Higa and Parr recommend is maintaining pH and soil temperature within conditions known to be detrimental to negative microorganisms as well as the addition of EM to tip the balance of positive and negative microorganisms in favor of the former.
They dismiss inoculants that include only a single microorganism as generally ineffective due to the uncertainty about the conditions in which a single microorganism would be effective. They cite the acknowledgment by the scientific community that multiple microorganisms (as in the case of Bokashi, invented and marketed by Higa) in coordination with good soil management practices positively influence plant growth and yield.
Various researchers have examined the use of EM in making organic fertilizers and investigated the effects of the fermented organic fertilizer on soil fertility and crop growth. The resulting effects on crop growth depend upon the organic fraction, direct effects of the introduced microorganisms, and indirect effects of microbially-synthesized metabolites (e.g., phytohormones and growth regulators).
In a community course of the Christchurch city council, New Zealand, 4-13 year old students can "learn the science behind reducing and utilising organic waste as a resource by turning it into natural fertilisers", using EMRO's EM in Bokashi composting for home kitchen waste at the EcoDepot/EcoDrop.
Due to the fact that only very few studies exist which have used scientific methods to investigate additives based on EM, any claims made by manufacturers regarding long-term beneficial effects need to be treated with care.
Use to reduce environmental pollution
- In India, effective microorganisms have been used in an attempt to clean up some sewage-polluted lakes in Bangalore in 2015.
- After the Bangkok floods of 2011 EM was used to clean up polluted water.
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- Szymanski, N.; Patterson, R.A. (2003). "Effective Microorganisms (EM) and Wastewater Systems in Future Directions for On-site Systems: Best Management Practice." (PDF). In R.A. and Jones, M.J. (Eds). Proceedings of On-site '03 Conference. Armidale, NSW, Australia: Lanfax Laboratories. pp. 347–354. ISBN 0-9579438-1-4. Retrieved 2006-11-14.
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- "Dr. Teruo Higa". em-la.com. EMRO América Latina Derechos Reservados. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
- Higa, Dr. Teruo; Dr. James Parr (1994). Beneficial and Effective Microorganisms for a Sustainable Agriculture and Environment. Atami, Japan: International Nature Farming Research Center. p. 7. External link in
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- Xu, H. L.; Wang, R.; Mridha, M. A. U. (2001). "Effects of Organic Fertilizers and a Microbial Inoculant on Leaf Photosynthesis and Fruit Yield and Quality of Tomato Plants". Journal of Crop Production 3: 173. doi:10.1300/J144v03n01_15.
- Daiss, N.; Lobo, M. G.; Socorro, A. R.; Brückner, U.; Heller, J.; Gonzalez, M. (2007). "The effect of three organic pre-harvest treatments on Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris L. Var. Cycla L.) quality". European Food Research and Technology 226 (3): 345. doi:10.1007/s00217-006-0543-2.
- Daiss, N; Lobo, M. G.; Gonzalez, M (2008). "Changes in postharvest quality of Swiss chard grown using 3 organic preharvest treatments". Journal of food science 73 (6): S314–20. doi:10.1111/j.1750-3841.2008.00842.x. PMID 19241576.
- "Fertilising for the Future". ccc.govt.nz. Christchurch City Council. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
- "A Guide to Effective Microorganisms" (PDF). envismadrasuniv.org. Christchurch City Council. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
- Mohit M Rao. "Micro bugs may help in restoring our embattled water bodies". The Hindu.
- "EM balls produced by royal project". The Nation. 2 November 2011.
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