Some organic apple and pear producers use oxytetracycline and another antibiotic, streptomycin, to manage a disease called fire blight. Antibiotics are not allowed in other types of organic food, including production of organic livestock.
The use of antibiotics is allowed for organic apple and pear production through a petition process to the NOSB, which has 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.
For example, 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. The groups urge the USDA to work with the organic apple and pear industry to incentivize viable alternatives for producers and uphold the integrity of the organic label by rejecting the petition to extend the expiration date for oxytetracycline.
This targeted firebombing effort by Consumers Union to cast doubt upon regulation of the organic label as it applies to apples and pears is a note of dissonance to the general favorable buzz about organic food.
Though limited in scope, the Consumers Unions antibiotics on fruit salvo is similar to the dustup from the study that concluded there are no real differences in the nutritional value of organic food compared to its conventional counterparts.
Though it sometimes appears that organic food has been given a birthright to favorable consumer perception and never-ending growth, this is not the case.
In the United Kingdom, the Soil Association reports that organic sales dipped in 2012, with the seven leading multiple retailers saw their organic sales fall by 3.8%.