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Consumers Union urges the phase-out of antibiotics in organic apple and pear orchards
Federal law prohibits synthetic substances in organic agriculture and food processing, including synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones and artificial food ingredients. But the law also allows exemptions; certain synthetic materials are listed in the regulations as allowed if no natural alternatives exist, the material is not harmful to the environment and human health, and it is deemed essential. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is the 15-member expert citizen panel charged by Congress with the important task of determining which synthetic materials are allowed. At its upcoming biannual meeting in San Antonio, Texas on April 29-May 2 2014, the NOSB will be voting on whether to extend the use of a material that would otherwise be prohibited in organic agriculture: the antibiotic streptomycin.
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 last year’s meeting, after hearing testimony from several medical experts who urged an end to the agricultural use of these important antibiotics, the NOSB voted to phase out the use of tetracycline by October 2014. The NOSB had been scheduled to vote at its October 2013 meeting on whether to also end the use of streptomycin, the last remaining antibiotic currently approved in organic agriculture. But the government shut-down canceled that meeting, and the vote did not take place.
The NOSB is now scheduled at its upcoming meeting to vote on streptomycin. Consumers Union urges the NOSB to preserve organic integrity and meet consumer expectations that “organic” means “no antibiotics.” We will be at the meeting in San Antonio urging the NOSB to phase streptomycin out of organics. 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. We encourage consumers to make their voice heard - please submit a comment asking the NOSB to prohibit the use of streptomycin in organic apple and pear production. The deadline for comments is April 8, 2014.