Tuesday, July 27, 2004

What is Effective Microorganisms (EM)?

1.0 What is Effective Microorganisms (EM)?

EM is short for Effective Microorganisms. EM are a group of heterogeneous microorganisms composed primarily of Photosynthetic bacteria, Ray fungi, Yeast, and Lactic acid bacteria, that affect the world of nature in a positive manner. These organisms are soil-borne, free-living and of the beneficial type. “By extension, EM is also the term applied to the liquid concentrate comprising very large numbers of such effective microorganisms that have been extracted from the natural world and coexists harmoniously in a liquid state” (Higa, 1994).

EM research and application was started in Japan by Dr. Teruo Higa through his research efforts in reducing the over dependence of Japanese farmers on ultimately destructive harmful chemical fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and pesticides being currently used. He eventually concluded that microorganisms of different strains determine the quality, whether good or bad, of the receiving environment. Dr. Higa’s EM are comprised of 80 different strains taken from 10 distinct genera belonging to five different families. It can exist in both aerobic and anaerobic states (with and without air) and can easily be produced from household organic wastes and a little dose of EM liquid concentrate. EM in liquid form is formed at high pressure with a pH of 3.5.

The applications of EM are numerous and can raise the quality of life anywhere and with minimal investment. It raises agricultural productivity, provides an alternative to solid wastes and wastewater disposal and management, makes the livestock industry a cleaner and more efficient industry and can basically improve the health and hygiene of communities and of farm animals- all through natural means. The technology is currently being employed in 51 countries worldwide, including Japan, United States, Brazil, Thailand and now in the Philippines.

2.0 Application/ Current Uses

EM was initially developed and used as a microbial inoculant for soil conditioning and agriculture throughout the 1970s and 1980s but at the experimental and research stage. It was found to be an “effective tool for manipulating and managing the overall microbial ecology of complex and diverse systems” (EMTech). EM is a versatile technology and can be used in soil conditioning, crop and livestock production, aquaculture, bioremediation of industrial wastes, and as a de-odorizer in markets, homes, offices, garbage transfer stations and landfills.

A number of farms planted to rice, vegetables, sugarcanes, banana and other crops are currently using EM and there are testimonies that harvests have increased, produce were of high and safe quality and soils became more productive have been gathered. In addition, many livestock raisers (poultry, swine, quail) are using EM as feed and water additive, deodorizer and as an important ingredient in organic fertilizer production. EM is also used by operators in prawn, bangus, tilapia and lapu-lapu production in many areas of the country, whether in cages, fishponds or in brackish culture. Many progressive local government units, including those in Metro Manila, are utilizing EM technology as a deodorizer of solid wastes in transfer stations and in landfills.

3.0 How does EM work?

During the last 50 years, microorganisms have been used extensively to advance medical technology, improve human and animal health, make food processing efficient and safe, advance genetic engineering and agricultural technology, contribute to environmental protection, and more recently, effectively treat and manage agricultural and municipal wastes. These have been well documented. The success is possible because certain microorganisms interact in a positive or beneficial manner in the environment they are in, be it, the soil, flora, fauna, water or air. (Parr,1995). Controlling diseases or pathogens in the receiving environment and decomposing wastes pollutants are significant contributions of beneficial microorganisms.

In developing EM, Dr. Teruo Higa has been able to isolate over 80 different strains of effective microorganisms/ beneficial taken from 10 distinct genera belonging to five different families. It is precisely this heterogeneity among the various microorganisms that give EM its amazing and wide-ranging effects. In fact, no particular limit is placed on the number of microorganisms used in EM. Apart from the advantage of having a heterogeneous group of beneficial microorganisms (EM), it is the regenerative quality of these microorganisms that enable the quality of anything such as the soil, the air or even the human body to be raised to a more positive level.

Another property of EM is that it demonstrates the ability of aerobic (existing with air/oxygen) and anaerobic (without air/oxygen) bacteria to coexist, which, until recently, was thought of to be impossible. Bacteria of opposing types, when together, act in mutually beneficial and complementary manner. Anaerobic bacteria/ microorganisms bring about decay in organic matter; whereas, other types of microorganisms can cause fermentation[1] of the same organic matter, hastening its transformation into useful substances. It is also a very effective anti-oxidant, that is, it has anti-aging and disease-suppressing components by limiting the activities of oxidants (activated oxygen)[2].

Thus, “microorganisms are in abundance everywhere and have a large influence on biological and chemical qualities such as the extent of putrefaction, fermentation, disease and oxidation of any system." (EMTech). EM technology has recognized these properties and is using these properties to raise the overall quality of the environment.

4.0 How effective is EM?

EM is currently being used in 51 countries for a variety of uses delineated above. In livestock production, the use of EM microbial inoculant holds great promise including its effectivity in improving production performance, odor control, waste management, sanitation, and manure fertilizer production. It is also an anti-oxidant. Basically, it:

· eliminates foul odor;
· prevents disease development & epidemic;
· treats waste to pass allowable discharge criteria;
· improves growth rat, increases weaning rate / adult fertility;
· decreases mortality rate;
· improves quality of produce (e.q. taste, texture, smell); and,
· helps convert animal waste into organic fertilizer.

Reports received from a field testing in a hog farm in the Province of Iloilo, Philippines note that the application of EM technology has resulted in a signifcant reduction of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) from an initial level of 4,300 ppm to 165 ppm and then to 90 ppm. Upon recommendation of further aeration of the settling ponds to complement the EM inoculation, the BOD level, after the two-month trial period, was reported at only 3.0 ppm (the DENR standard is 50 ppm). The hog farm did not have a Sequential Batch Reactor (SBR) to treat its wastewater. In the Holiday Hills II and Domino Stock and Breeding Farms in the Province of Laguna, Philippines, there has been a noticeable drop in malodor. Last 09 October 2000, Universal Robina Corporation (URC) of the Gokongwei group issued a certification of the successful use of EM in controlling odor from their hog farms.

A five (5)-month study conducted by the International Training Center on Pig Husbandry (ITCPH) in Lipa City, Province of Batangas, Philippines in 1995-1996 concluded that EM was an effective way of improving the production performance of fatteners and that a higher average daily gain and a lower feed conversion ratio can be attained. This was due to the considerable drop in ammonia levels and pathogenic microbial count, the former a significant factor in respiratory problem management and odor problems, the latter a factor in cases of infection (ITCPH: Buizon et.al, 1996)

The cities of Manila and Lipa have likewise recently issued (23 and 07 August 2000 respectively) certifications as to the use and effectiveness of EM in deodorizing and disinfecting the solid wastes (garbage) being collected daily.

In farming, experiments in other countries have demonstrated the effectiveness of EM in controlling erosion, reducing irrigation, increasing higher water infiltration and water holding capacity, reducing compaction of the soil, suppressing attack by soil pathogens, reducing use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides etc. Agricultural products such as vegetables, citrus, rice, cut-flowers, wheat, peas, bamboo, banana etc. have been experimented on with the use of EM. Experiments in the use of EM for golf courses have been successful in golf courses both in the U.S. and here in the Philippines.

5.0 Is EM safe?

EM has been thoroughly tested in most countries where it is in use. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has categorized all microorganisms in EM as generally recognized as safe (GRAS); while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has categorized most of the microorganisms as food grade microorganisms (EMTech).

In the Philippines, the Clinical Laboratory Report (05 May 1995) of the Toxicity Test issued by the Director of Bureau of Animal Industry, Department of Agriculture stated that the Kyusei EM-1 Liquid and EM Bokashi (solid), had “no untoward effect on laboratory animals. All inoculated mice were apparently healthy and alive.” The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of EM produced in the U.S. is enclosed.

Kyusei[3] EM-1 is currently being produced here in the Philippines, utilizing locally available substrates. The original “seed” comes from Japan. The “seed” is composed of live beneficial microorganisms carefully selected from the list of the so called 2000 “beneficial microorganisms”. The National Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (BIOTECH), University of the Philippines at Los BaƱos, the accountable agency mandated by the Philippine government to handle products of this kind, tested/evaluated Kyusei EM-1 and found out that this microorganisms are the same, types of microorganisms found in the soils, regardless of the country of origin.

EM has successfully passed the standards in the United States of America where the environmental concern is far advanced than any other countries in the world. The Agricultural Research Service of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has conducted laboratory, greenhouse and field tests with Kyusei EM-1 and has found it to be a mixed culture of common microorganisms often found in agricultural soils including mainly Lactobacillus spp., photosynthetic bacteria, yeast and actinomycetes (Parr, J. F., 1995). These microorganisms are not “engineered” nor the exotic types, and are not known to be harmful to plants, animals or humans.

Research conducted by scientists in other countries, including the Asia-Pacific region, has shown that EM is very useful in rehabilitating deteriorated soils brought about by intensive cultivation and application of harmful agricultural chemicals. This has led to the proliferation of the pathogenic types of microbes, as manifested by the occurrence of diseases in plants and animals.

Several scientists in different countries have shown that the application of EM improved the microbial diversity in agricultural soils and even improved the population of inherent beneficial microbes therein. This shows that EM cannot cause the extinction of any inherent microbe in a certain locality. Besides microbial taxonomy is generally not based on locality. A Lactobacillus acidophilus found in Japan or in the United States of America is the same Lactobacillus acidophilus that can be found in the Philippines.


[1] Fermentation is essentially an “anaerobic process by which facultative microorganisms (e.g., yeasts) transform complex organic molecules (e.g. carbohydrates) into simple organic compounds that often can be absorbed directly by plants.” The process yields a relatively small amount of energy compared to aerobic decomposition, which results in complete oxidation that releases large amounts of energy, gas, heat with carbon dioxide and water. Putrefaction is somewhat the reverse of fermentation in which “facultative heterotrophic microorganisms decompose proteins anaerobically, yielding malodorous incompletely oxidized, metabolites (e.g. ammonia, mercaptans and indole) that are often toxic to plants and animals.” (Higa and Parr, 1994)

[2] Activated oxygen attacks the cell by oxidizing the unsaturated fatty acid to lipid peroxide which causes the cell membrane to malfunction. Oxidation is the process by which a molecule gives up electrons and become unstable. Thus, in the cell membrane, oxidation causes the unsaturated fatty acids to give up its electrons, and consequently, its stability.

[3] Japanese for “saving the world”

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