Shit Makes Good Medicine



Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit recently announced a startling breakthrough. Transplanting feces from healthy humans into the digestive tracts of people suffering from a deadly bacteria (Clostridium difficile) cured 90% of the patients. This bacteria causes some 14,000 deaths a year. The feces were transplanted during colonoscopy or through a nasogastro tube. Apparently healthy bacteria in transplanted stools are able to fight off the harmful bacteria and reinstate a healthy environment in the gut.

This news is heavenly music to me because of the shock and disbelief that parts of my book, Holy Shit, invariably cause. In radio interviews, (where I am asked not even to mention the name of the book, horrors) I try to argue that bodily wastes from healthy people is healthy stuff and makes great fertilizer. This often causes earnest consternation in the interviewers because we have been taught that our bodily wastes are vile, nasty, disease-causing material. Even scientists and health professionals who know better, wave cautionary red flags all over the place at the idea of using human waste for fertilizer.

Because of our cultural attitudes toward bodily waste, society is spending billions of dollars trying to make the stuff disappear when in fact it is worth billions of dollars as plant food. If it were white and smelled like roses, there would not be a problem. I am hopeful that this new discovery will finally persuade people to change their minds. Culture is a funny thing. Right now, advertising is doing a good job of convincing pet owners that it is okay to let their dogs lick them on the face but the same people throw their hands up in horror at the idea of composting the dog’s manure for garden fertilizer. In case you think this is not much of a problem, there are something like 70 million pet dogs in this country and most of their manure is going into landfills or down the toilet hole. And another 70 million pet cats.

The shit problem is as immediately dangerous to our environment as the global warming problem and compared to the latter, is much easier to solve. For example, right now the phosphorus level in our oceans, lakes and rivers is reaching alarming concentrations and causing blue-green algae eruptions that result in dead zones in our waterways. That phosphorus comes from farm chemical and animal manure fertilizer and from septage water coming out of our waste treatment plants. What makes this wastefulness so pathetic is that at the same time we are throwing the stuff away, the price of phosphorus fertilizers is rising. I know from talking recently to a farmer active in official soil conservation circles (he definitely doesn’t want me to use his name because this is very controversial) that the government is readying some very strict rules about fertilizer runoff. There are also new ways to remove phosphorus from septage and use it as fertilizer. The problem is that all the ways to solve the problems seem to cost more money than society has been willing to spend. That’s because the rising value of the recovered plant food is not reckoned into the equation properly in my opinion. I get tired of repeating myself, but maybe that is the only way to get the message out. Much of the problem could be solved simply by viewing manure— human, pet and farm animal, as a resource not a burden to society. Now we have an example from Henry Ford Hospital that the old crudity, “eat shit,” might not be a bad idea in some cases.

But it does open up another interesting discussion. Why do some people have healthy feces and some people don’t?


Great article. Up until two years ago (when we installed a concrete septic tank) we had a small steel septic tank for five people. Every year by April or May it would be full. I’d shovel the top off the tank, park the manure spreader beside the hole, plug the ends of the spreader with hay and then shovel and bucket the contents of the tank into the spreader. I’d then spread everything on a small hayfield. Start to finish it all took two hours. Everyone told me I was a) crazy for doing the smelly work at all, and b) crazy for spreading humanure in the open. To my mind it solved two problems at once – cleaned the tank and fertilized the field. All for the price of a little sweat. Oh, and the sheep never complained about the quality of the hay.

Hi Gene,

Recently read Holy Shit, thanks for your excellent work!

What do you think of this? “Mining” shit for phosphorus fertilizer:

Comprehensive Effort to Create Sustainable Fertilizers

Phosphorus recycled from human and animal waste for plant fertilizer could ease demand for the dwindling, increasingly expensive rock-mined element. Scientists at WSU have found plants flourish with struvite, a waste ingredient composed of magnesium, nitrogen, and phosphorous. Teamed with Multiform Harvest, a Seattle phosphorous recovery company, the researchers are fine-tuning the application and proportion of essential components in the fertilizer with the goal of marketing a product and ultimately adding security to the world’s food supply.

“You can’t continue mining a finite resource forever,” said Rita Hummel, a scientist at the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center. “But as long as we can reclaim struvite from animal manure and sewage, we have a sustainable resource. We’re figuring out how to use it effectively and safely.”

Local Benefits
Hummel is using Multiform Harvest struvite from wastewater treatment plants at Yakima, Washington, and Boise, Idaho. She and her fellow researchers hope to include struvite extracted from manure from area dairy farms to develop regional nutrient recycling.

“When you feed a cow, about 20 to 25 percent of the phosphorus the cow eats ends up in the milk carton,” said Joe Harrison, Hummel’s scientist colleague at WSU. “That means about 75 to 80 percent ends up in the manure.”

Full article here:

    Webster, I think that article is right on. Mining phosphorus from sewage is especially interesting and hopefully society will come along with it. Gene

This is interesting…I was always told that dog and cat manure would not be good compost. I have to research this further. At this point, we are only using the chicken manure. But this is definitely “poop” for thought! Ha.

I’ve been thinking of building a modern version of the old Outhouse.Dig a trench under it and once in awhile put some hay down the hole along with a little lime and clean it out every so often with the loader by way of the trench should make good pasture fertilizer.Its exactly the way I handle the chicken litter in the hen house and it makes great fertilizer.You’re right that millions of $$$ worth of valuable fertilizer is being literally flushed down the toilet every year here in the USA.

I agree with Betty about the average American diet. It also makes a difference whether you (or your parents when you were younger) rushed to take antibiotics for minor infections; antibiotics really mess up the GI tract by killing off the good bacteria in the gut. Raw milk and raw milk yogurt boost GI health, yet too many drink the pasteurized garbage. In the national rush to eliminate any possible germ from our homes, we’ve also decreased our exposure to germs in general — not a good thing, as the human organism survives by reacting to small doses of nasties and building immune responses. Although I support vaccination for diseases such as tetanus, diptheria and whooping cough, I think when we moved into vaccinating for the usual childhood diseases, flu and HPV, we diminished the immune response of millions of people. On the other hand, it would be extremely difficult for people to live in large cities without modern sewage handling systems, as witness major epidemics of the past — country folk often survived. On the other hand again, maybe it would be a good thing if people didn’t live in big cities…

Gene, you asked what makes one person’s shit healthy and another’s not. Garbage in, garbage out. You are what you eat, etc. I’m not sure how all the chemicals and pharmaceuticals get composted out. Are you? And that’s the only reason not to put a human’s or a pet’s composted waste on veggies–their highly industrialized and pharmaceuticalized diet. But I believe any human or animal that eats a healthy, whole foods diet shits gold.

Charles Mac Arthur March 7, 2013 at 7:18 am

When, 10,000years ago the Great Glaciers melted back north, they left the upper half of the United states as a barren, sterile gravel pit, but by the 1850s it was 7 feet deep in rich composted topsoil. NewEngland farmers, their lands nutrient parched from repeated harvesting, had to move, so armed with musketry, expelled the nomadic cultures of 30,000 years residence, and with the iron plow reversed the contributions of Buffalo, Antelope and billions of Passenger Pigeon [aerial applicators] over 100 centuries.

The industrialized farmers, no longer gave back to the land, the nutrients the sun had granted, They ran pipe downhill to the river, and used drinking water as a propellant conveyed the richness to the sea. The Mississippi became the Mississipee, and currently passes through the human body three times on the way to the Gulf, where it has created a dead zone the size of Massachushits.

Whales, noted for their spouting, lack our ability to spit.

Farmers for Forty Centuries tells about American agronomist F.H. King when he, in 1909, toured China, Korea and Japan, studying traditional fertilization, tillage and general farming practices. The main take away it got from the book is that these societies where able to intensively farm for 4,000 years by recycling all organic material especially human manure. We need to do this to ensure that are civilization can last at least 1,000 years.

I continue to get a laugh when I ask some urban gentlefolk about how often they see “comfort stations” [what a graceful euphemism!] in the rice paddies and elsewhere in Asian ag areas – or in most countries anywhere that passers-by wouldn’t spot a fieldhand’s squat. How about some system to pipe the swine ponds and such into fields being cultivated? Just wonderibg. Cue up Utah Phillip’s story about “Moose-turd Pie”. I ain’t complainin’.

Check out the Allan Savory lecture at Video on An astonishing story about the importance of you know what!!!

CHeck out this web site on composting pet waste: : It has interesting math on pet waste and refers to a study in Alaska that USDA, NRCS and the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District teamed up with the mushers to fearlessly explore composting dog waste. Turns out that dog and cat shit can be composted – just don’t use the compost on your veggies, but trees, shrubs, lawn – just dandy

Well I just figured out how you can grow that 24 inch long ear of corn Gene, Just start pooping in the corn field.

Holy Shit has been on the end table since shortly after its publication. The Humanure Handbook has been on the shelf for years. I don’t lend them out. I tell people to buy their own copy as that is the only way that the authors get a paycheck.

As both Gene and Joe point out, it is pretty close to a mortal sin to waste our waste.

So, when I inhale a few sprinkles while working the manure pile with the tractor, it’s probably a good thing? Check out today’s latest Washington Post story on the deadly “superbugs” in hospitals.

This makes sense because C difficile is caused by the overuse of antibiotics and/or occurs following a stay in a hospital or nursing home–all bacteria, good and bad, are wiped out of a person’s gastrointestinal tract by prescribed antibiotics and this harmful bacteria is introduced in the hospital environment, runs rampant, and is very resistant to antibiotics. The elderly and immunocompromised are particularly susceptible to this disease. Re-introducing the good bacterial, either with probiotics (less effective) or–in this case–shit, balances things out again.

Rather than undergo these costly and invasive medical procedures to get the shit in the GI tract, I’m wondering why couldn’t a person just eat shit capsules or take shit suppositories? Seriously, it would achieve the same ends at almost no cost.

Healthy people could even find a new occupation–selling their shit to the unhealthy–through Big Pharma of course. Just think of the possibilities.

Along the same lines there’s some interesting and promising work going on in treating the autoimmune disease Crohns disease with whip worms from pig intestines. Seems American guts may be too clean and unlike other nations we’re lacking a healthy load of parasites to keep our guts in balance as well. Food for thought.

    The reason they haven’t gone for capsules or suppositories is that it is a new technique, under investigation. They have to prove it works first, and they have to prove that getting it to where it is needed also works. Once they have the proof, which hopefully they have now, they can work on different delivery vehicles. Unfortunately that is where the big pharmaceutical companies can get their grubby hands in and push the costs up.

Gene, I LOVED your book and have recommended it to every gardening/farming friend I know. Also on your recommendation in the book, picked up The Humanure Handbook.

We recently moved to a piece of property we bought (finally!) and are living in a tinyhome of sorts. Followed Joseph Jenkins’ instructions for making a composting toilet (wish I could post a photo… my mom painted it for us, and we christened it Loo Loo) and have been using that for the last 4 months. Made 2-sided compost thing out of mostly salvage materials, which will hold at least 1 year worth per side along with our kitchen compost, so we’ll be able to age it properly. Even my 10-year-old daughter likes it. “Mom, y’know, it’s kind of nice to never have to flush twice.”

This was a great find!
I am a big fan of both vermiculture and compostable toilets.
I will be looking for the book at the library this afternoon.
Appreciate all your work Gene.

A huge side-benefit of the acceptance of humanure use would be affordable farmworker housing.

To put up a modest house, using community labour, the REQUIRED septic system costs almost as much as the materials in the house! We could cut housing prices IN HALF if humanure systems were recognized by health authorities as an acceptable way to do things.

I talked to a health inspector about composting toilets. He had nothing against them. In fact, he suggested that ten minutes after he left, one could disconnect from the septic system and do humanure composting. But that $40,000 engineered septic system had to be there in order to get a Certificate of Occupancy.

And don’t get me started on the requirement to supply such a house with access to 32,600 litres of water per day, while the average resident in our area only uses about 230.

    My sentiments exactly.

    Does anyone know of any county in the US where this is not the case? Any useful case law, in particular, providing for ANY way to have approved housing without a septic?

      I’m not aware of any jurisdiction that allows a house to not be connected to either a sewer or septic system. I suspect that somewhere out in the hinterlands there may still be places that are unregulated.

      Gord Baird has crafted a “flush-toilet-ready” policy that we’re trying to interest local planning authorities in adopting.

So the new mantra is “Eat Shit and Live!!”
love it Gene.

I love your posts. They are so “right on”. We have a local company who hauls septic pumpings and spreads them on our hayfields. Yes, we have to wait until we can harvest the hay, but the yield increase is awesome. None of our regular hay customers have voiced any concerns and all know what we are doing.

My buddy got a black lab dog and would pick up its droppings into a bag each week, wrapping them up in a plastic bag and dumping them in the garbage bin. I researched a bit and dug a hole in the backyard, put a bin with the bottom cut out and holes in the sides into the hole, and made a soil digestor (ingestor). Then he would just put the droppings there and they would anaerobically decompose.

Composting them is also a good idea but I had gotten scared off by the WARNINGS! about such compost.

I may consider human waste as a fertilizer when humans stop eating shit.

I love your book, Gene. Is force-feeding recommended?

    If force feeding were an option, we should feed it to all of congress. they must be suffering from some type of problem as they certainly cause problems for all of us.

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