As if general food safety and quality regulations aren’t enough to keep grower-shippers busy in the produce industry, the organic sector has a whole other set of regulations to satisfy. Many of these regulations — from approved pesticides and fertilizers to import regulations — are evolving, and the produce industry is keeping involved every step of the way.
In Washington, organic apple and other tree fruit growers are closely watching the debate by the National Organics Standards Board on the possible de-listing of tetracycline and streptomycin for use on organic orchards.
Addie Pobst, import coordinator for CF Fresh, Sedro-Woolley, Wash., said banning the substances, which are antibiotics used to control fire blight, would devastate the organic tree fruit industry in Washington. Fire blight is highly contagious and can quickly decimate an orchard, killing acres of trees outright, Pobst said.
The Washington State Horticultural Association has petitioned the board to keep the substances on the allowed list, claiming that 76% of the organic apple and pear growers in the state say they would reduce or entirely eliminate their organic apple and pear production if a de-listing occurred.
The Organic Trade Association is also working to extend an exemption for apple and pear growers in the state to use the substances until a replacement method for fire blight control can be developed.
Shippers that do business across international borders are also awaiting the board’s decision on a recommendation to disallow sodium nitrate to be used in organic growing. The compound is used to keep vegetable plants from freezing during the winter months, but its use goes against organic standards for many countries, including Canada and Japan.
Sodium nitrate has created issues in international trade for U.S.-certified organic produce, according to the USDA action memorandum that requests it to be disallowed. In the U.S. equivalence agreement with Canada, sodium nitrate use is one of very few deal-breakers. Because European Union countries also prohibit the use of the compound, its acceptance in the U.S. may also complicate efforts to achieve an equivalence agreement there, according to the memo.
The board is scheduled to take up the recommendation at its April 26-29 meeting in Seattle.
Marco Brakkee, vice president of importer OTC USA, the American arm of the Dutch company OTC, said its business in the U.S. is limited in the U.S. by import regulations for certain varieties.