Organic Apples, Pears Sprayed With Antibiotics, Oh my!

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:

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Comments on “Organic Apples, Pears Sprayed With Antibiotics, Oh my!”

  1. jessica Rucci

    Please stop using antibiotics on organic apple and pear trees at least by the time you had said, October, 2014. These are supposed to be organic, grown naturally. My friends son almost lost his leg from MRSA due to the overuse of antibiotics in farming. I buy organic to avoid this and gmos, now I will stay away from apples and pears until I hear antibiotics are no longer used.
    So, please stop this, you are helping to kill people and most have no idea.
    Thank you.

  2. Tom Jones

    This article is rife with inaccuracy. First the line “will not be able to meet the deadline” does not fully express the concern, which is that there are still no viable replacements for antibiotics. Which despite what this article seems to imply there are not. Biological controls show some promise but still have limited effectiveness and copper sprays have shown inconsistent coverage.

    Secondly there are no measurable traces of the antibiotics present on the fruit. The antibiotics are applied to the bloom and breakdown before harvest.

    Additionally while there are limited fire blight resistant varieties of apples, there are no fire blight resistant varieties of pears.

  3. Darlene Lewis

    I buy organic with idea there is NOTHING I repeat NOTHING that is sprayed on them. Stop get with the deadline October 2014

  4. clare evans

    Please stop putting people lives at risk by using antibiotics on organic pears and apples. I never in my wildest dreams thought that organic growers would do such a thing as this.


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