Victory for Consumers: No More Antibiotics in Organic Orchards

November 2014

Victory for Consumers: All Antibiotics Now Prohibited in Organic Orchards

In critical victories for consumers in 2013 and 2014, the National Organic Standards Board voted to eliminate the use of the antibiotics streptomycin and tetracycline in organic apple and pear production. These antibiotics had been allowed in organic apple and pear orchards to treat fire blight, a bacterial disease in fruit trees. The prohibition is not only good for public health–given the mounting evidence of the impact of antibiotic-resistant bacteria—but consistent with consumer expectations for foods labeled “organic.” Our November 2014 consumer survey showed that nine out of 10 consumers don’t think organic produce should have antibiotics. These votes by the NOSB truly represented the will of the people and the spirit of organic. We urge the USDA to fund research to help growers continue to find workable alternative treatments for fire blight that are compatible with organic production.

More background: 

While antibiotics have been prohibited for nearly all uses in organic agriculture since the federal organic regulations went into effect, two specific antibiotics have been allowed in organic apple and pear orchards. These two antibiotics, tetracycline and streptomycin, are also used in human medicine. They are considered “critically important” to human medicine by the World Health Organization. Their use in agricultural settings increases the risk that human pathogens will develop resistance to these crucial drugs. At its Spring 2013 meeting, after hearing testimony from several medical experts who urged an end to the agricultural use of these important antibiotics, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted to phase out the use of tetracycline by October 2014. At its Spring 2014 meeting, the NOSB voted to phase out the use of streptomycin as well.

In public comments prior to both meetings, we strongly urged the NOSB to preserve organic integrity and meet consumer expectations that “organic” means “no antibiotics.” We believe that organic apple and pear growers should not release this antibiotic into the environment, which increases the likelihood that antibiotic-resistant pathogens will develop. Organics should be part of the solution — helping to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotic that are critical for use in human medicine.

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