Apr 9, 2013
Groups seek ban on antibiotics in organic apple production

Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, has announced that it, Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety are urging the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to discontinue the use of antibiotics in organic apple and pear production. The groups cite the potential undermining of the integrity of the organic label and threats to public health and consumer expectations.

NOSB, which meets in Portland, Ore., this week, will vote on a petition to extend the use of oxytetracyline beyond the existing expiration date of Oct. 21, 2014.

Data from a recent poll commissioned by Consumer Reports confirms that most consumers do not know that the USDA organic label can be found on foods produced with antibiotics, and don’t believe they should be allowed to carry that label if antibiotics were used, according to Consumers Union.

Some organic apple and pear producers use oxytetracycline and another antibiotic, streptomycin, to manage a disease called fire blight. Antibiotics are not allowed in other types of organic food, including production of organic livestock, according to Consumers Union.

The groups submitted more than 35,000 public comments to NOSB in advance of their meeting, raising concerns about consumer expectations and the mounting evidence that the public health threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria make it critical that all uses of antibiotics in food production be minimized, according to Consumers Union.

The use of antibiotics is allowed for organic apple and pear production through a petition process to NOSB, which has already extended the deadlines for this loophole to close several times since the organic label was implemented in 2002. Despite these extensions, there has been limited help for apple and pear growers to find alternative treatments for fire blight, although some alternatives do exist, according to Consumers Union.

For example, U.S. farmers do not apply antibiotics to the organic apples and pears they sell to Europe, where the use of antibiotics is not allowed. The groups urge USDA to work with the organic apple and pear industry to incentivize viable alternatives for producers and uphold the integrity of the organic label by rejecting the petition to extend the expiration date for oxytetracycline.

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