Apr 15, 2013
Organic board limits antibiotics

USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recently rejected a petition to extend the expiration date for the use of oxytetracycline in apple and pear production beyond Oct. 21, 2014, according to Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports.

NOSB also passed a resolution to encourage USDA to investigate a transitional option for the emergency use of tetracycline until 2017. Some organic apple and pear producers use oxytetracycline and another antibiotic, streptomycin, to manage fire blight. Antibiotics are not allowed in other types of organic food, according to Consumers Union.

Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety had urged NOSB to discontinue the use of antibiotics in organic apple and pear production. The groups cited the potential undermining of the integrity of the organic label and threats to public health and consumer expectations.

The groups submitted more than 35,000 public comments to NOSB in advance of the decision, 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 had 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.

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, according to Consumers Union.

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