Having been a devoted buyer of organic products for decades, I was shocked to learn today that antibiotics are allowed to be used on certain organic foods.
Surprisingly, those foods are apples and pears.
All other uses of antibiotics on organic foods have been outlawed since organic certification became a federally regulated program in 2002.
However, organic apple and pear growers are still allowed to spray streptomycin and tetracycline - the same antibiotics used to treat human and animal infections - on their trees to prevent the spread of a costly disease called fire blight, which stifles new growth and can kill trees.
In 2011, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) informed organic apple and pear growers that antibiotics would no longer be allowed after October 21, 2014.
But because of pressure from organic apple and pear growers, who say they may not be able to meet the deadline, the NOSB is considering pushing back that date until 2016.
"Every time you eat an organic apple or pear, you expose your gut flora to measureable levels of streptomycin and tetracycline," says the Organic Consumers Association. The more antibiotics you're exposed to (usually through eating factory-farmed meat or if your doctor still liberally prescribes them), the greater are your chances of developing resistance to these important antibiotics, both of which are essential to treating human disease."
Tetracycline is used to treat common infections and for serious diseases like Legionnaire's disease. Streptomycin treats tuberculosis, tularemia, plague, bacterial endocarditis, brucellosis and other diseases.
Although there are safer alternatives to spraying antibiotics, they are the treatment of choice for controlling fire blight - resistance to streptomycin is already a problem in many apple and pear orchards.
Many organic growers find they can avoid antibiotics by "keeping a close watch on their orchards and by using the full range of cultural practices and organic inputs available to prevent the spread of the disease," says the Center for Food Safety. And some apple and pear varieties are naturally resistant to fire blight.
Importantly, US exporters to the European Union comply with their rule that prohibits the use of antibiotics on organic apples and pears. The US and EU signed an agreement last year that allows for the free flow of organic goods between the two.
"Given the growing public and medical community concern about antibiotic resistance and its effects on health, we cannot risk having these important antibiotics lose their effectiveness for killing human pathogens. Moreover, the entire organic label and organic program is at risk of losing credibility because organic consumers do not expect antibiotics to be used in any of the organic products they buy, and certainly not in apples and pears," they say.
Here's a video that describes controlling fire blight without antibiotics.
Please ask the NOSB to stick with the agreed schedule and get antibiotics out of organic apples and pears by October 2014. Please do this by April 8 to make sure your comment gets in the record: