Sign the Petition to The National Organic Standards Board

No More Antibiotics on Organic Apples and Pears!

Please reject the pressure from a vocal minority of organic apple and pear growers who want to continue to use antibiotics after the Oct. 21, 2014, end date.

One of the reasons I buy organic food is to do my part to solve the problem of antibiotic-resistant human pathogens. I don’t want to play any part in the abuse of antibiotics by the factory farms and industrial crop producers who are in cahoots with the pharmaceuticals industry. I also want to reduce my exposure, and my family’s exposure, to harmful sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics. Limiting our exposure to antibiotics keeps our gut flora healthy and makes it more likely that antibiotics will work for us when we need them.

I was very disappointed to learn that there was an exception to the National Organic Program’s “no antibiotics” rule. Now I’m concerned that if the National Organic Standards Board doesn’t follow through with its scheduled phase-out of antibiotics for apples and pears on Oct. 21, 2014, we’ll never see an end to the use of antibiotics in organic.

As we correctly do not allow the use of antibiotics in other organic crops or in animals, why do we still allow it in apples and pears? There are effective means of stopping this problem without resorting to dangerous antibiotics, as well as apple and pear species that are naturally resistant to this blight.

Antibiotics don’t belong in organic. The non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture endangers the environment and human health by setting the stage for human pathogens to become resistant to antibiotics that are critically important to human medicine and antibiotic residues on food that could impair beneficial gut flora. Organic principles don’t support the use of antibiotics, a synthetic off-farm input, to address fire blight. The organic solution, the only solution that’s truly sustainable, is to adopt a systems-based approach that integrates organic methods of prevention, monitoring and control. Antibiotics are not essential to organic apple and pear production. Only 38% of Washington State growers have used tetracycline and one third of the state’s organic apple and one fourth of the state’s pear producers are certified as E.U. compliant, meaning they have committed to not using antibiotics.

Thank you for considering my comments. I hope that you will side with consumers and the majority of apple and pear growers who agree that antibiotics shouldn’t be used in organic.


Organic Consumers Association

You have 255 days left to sign.

Thought antibiotics weren't allowed in certified organic foods? That's mostly true, with one important exception: Organic farmers are allowed to spray apple and pear trees with antibiotics in order to prevent a bacterial disease called fire blight. But in 2011, concerned about the impact on human health associated with the overuse of antibiotics, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) informed organic apple and pear growers that antibiotics would no longer be allowed to be used after October 21, 2014. Now, due to pressure from the organic apple and pear industry, the NOSB is considering pushing back that date until 2016.

Please sign the petition and add your own comments. Ask the NOSB to stick with the agreed schedule and get antibiotics out of organic apples and pears by October 2014. 

Why worry about antibiotics on apples and pears?

Every time you eat an organic apple or pear, you risk exposing your gut flora to measurable levels of streptomycin and tetracycline. This increases your chances of developing resistance to these important antibiotics, both of which are essential to treating human disease. Tetracycline is used to treat common infections of the respiratory tract, sinuses, middle ear, and urinary tract, as well as for anthrax, plague, cholera, and Legionnaire's disease. Streptomycin is used to treat tuberculosis, tularemia, plague, bacterial endocarditis, brucellosis and other diseases.

The USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) recognizes and respects the powerful role antibiotics play in protecting human health, and the fact that antibiotics lose their effectiveness if they are overused. Resistant genes already exist for tetracycline and streptomycin. Every time they are used, resistance is increased by killing bacteria susceptible to the antibiotics and leaving the others. Once resistant genes are present in any bacteria, they increase the pool of resistant genes and the likelihood that human pathogens will acquire that resistance.

That's why organic rules prohibit the use of antibiotics in animal feed, or to stimulate the growth or production of livestock. This avoids the reckless abuse of antibiotics, a common practice on non-organic factory farms that have become breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The use of antibiotics on fruit trees may not play as important a role in antibiotic resistance as the rampant use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in livestock, but it does have an impact on the pool of antibiotic-resistant bacteria – something organic agriculture should not be a part of.

The industry argues that you would have to eat 1000 apples a day to reach the acceptable daily intake of streptomycin, and that that the highest tetracycline residue level detected was 0.25 parts-per-million (ppm), well below the permitted rate of 0.35 ppm. But for consumers who expect that their organic food would contain no antibiotic residues whatsoever, the fact that we – and our children – could be exposed to antibiotics by eating organic apples and pears is unacceptable.

Do organic apple and pear growers have to use antibiotics?

No. As the video on this page explains, there are other ways to control fire blight that don't include using antibiotics. In fact, U.S. growers exporting to the European Union (E.U.) comply with the E.U. rule that says apples and pears must be produced without antibiotics to be sold as organic.

Additionally, there are some apple and pear varieties that are naturally resistant to fire blight. You can reduce your exposure to antibiotic residues and give growers an incentive to eliminate antibiotic use by demanding resistant varieties. Beyond Pesticides has compiled a list you can print and take with you when you go shopping.

Please sign the petition below by October 1, and add your own comments. Ask the NOSB to stick with the agreed schedule and get antibiotics out of organic apples and pears by October 2014.

Also, if you're in or near Louisville, Ky., where the meeting will be held, you can sign up here before October 1, to attend the meeting and submit your comments in person.

Fire blight

Fire blight is caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. It kills the shoots of apples, pears, and some ornamental trees, giving them the appearance of having been scorched by fire. The two antibiotics used to prevent fire blight are streptomycin and tetracycline.


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