Antibiotics in Organic Tree Fruit Production — Simple Questions/Answers

April 10th, 2013

USDA is deliberating these questions right now in Portland, OR

Photo Courtesy of Reini68

Photo Courtesy of Reini68 

Is the Use of This Material a Threat to Human Health?

There is no debate that low level, chronic dietary exposure to antibiotics is deleterious to human health. This is especially important in light of the disproportionate intake of apples and apple products by children.

Some medical officials see the real risk in the wholesale disbursement into the environment of antibiotic resistant bacteria. 80% of antibiotic usage is in agriculture (mostly in livestock production).

There’s certainly also legitimate concern in terms of occupational exposure to antibiotics in the workplace (farmers and farmworkers— most of the research coming from the livestock sector).

Is the Use of This Material a Threat to the Environment?

There is concern that applying broad-spectrum antibiotics in pear and apple orchards, using air blast sprayer technology, will have an impact on microbial life and the biodiversity of the farm. Federal law governing organics mandates that negative impacts to biodiversity be considered.

Is This Material Essential in Organic Production?

It was reported by Washington researchers, at the National Organic Coalition meeting Monday, April 8, that last year, a “bad year” for fire blight in Washington, that only a minimal number of organic producers used antibiotics. Growers producing fruit for export to Europe don’t use antibiotics because they are banned from use under international organic regulations (Canada, European Union, Codex Alimentarius , IFOAM).

The Cornucopia Institute surveyed all certified organic apple and pear growers in the United States. Of the apple producers who responded to the survey (a strong 11% response rate), The majority, 56%, reported that they have never used oxytetracycline or streptomycin in their orchards. Even in the giant apple producing state of Washington, 54% had never used antibiotics on their trees/fruit.

Obviously, the majority of farmers have proven, by using more conservative cultural practices (not crowding trees, using resistant cultivars and rootstock, etc.) and naturally-based remedies, that the use of antibiotics is not essential in apple production.

Pears are generally much more susceptible to fire blight and more research is necessary before making conclusions about successful alternative production practices.

Mark A. Kastel
Senior Farm Policy Analyst
The Cornucopia Institute

Please “like” this posting on our Facebook page and/or “share” this with your friends, family and colleagues. A large response on Facebook might very well impress members of the National Organic Standards Board who are meeting in Portland, Oregon, through Thursday, debating this issue.

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