Dealing a blow to organic tree fruit growers, the National Organic Standards Board voted May 2 against extending the phaseout of the antibiotic streptomycin as a fire blight treatment for organic apple and pear trees.
Needing 10 votes to extended the phaseout until Oct. 21, 2017, the 8-7 vote to extend the deadline fell two votes short.
National Organic Standards Board members Harold Austen of Zirkle Fruit and Zea Sonnabend of the California Certified Organic Farmers made the motion to extend the use of the antibiotic, according to a report from the Cornucopia Institute.
Organic growers lost the use of the antibiotic tetracycline last year, which means no antibiotics will be used on organic apples and pears after Oct. 21 this year, according to Urvashi Rangan, executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center.
The use of antibiotics on organic apples and pears has attracted criticism from consumer groups and attention from media outlets for several years,
“This is not only good for public health--given the mounting evidence of the impact of antibiotic-resistant bacteria—but consistent with consumer expectations,” Rangan said.
“The survey we released just this week showed that nine out of 10 consumers don’t think organic produce should have antibiotics,” she said.
Rangan urged the USDA to fund research to help growers continue to find alternative treatments for fire blight that are compatible for organic production.
The decision not to extend the use of the antibiotic may hurt organic growers, the U.S. Apple Association believes.
“U.S. Apple is disappointed with the actions of the National Organics Standards Board, as an adequate substitute for treatment of fire blight — a crippling plant disease for our growers — has not yet been fully developed,” said Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for the Vienna, Va.-based group.
She said in a statement that apple industry leaders were hoping for an extended phase out period to allow for development of better alternatives.
“Tetracycline use was already eliminated by the board last year, so this is a double-hit for the apple industry,” she said.