(Beyond Pesticides, May 5, 2014) During the recent National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in San Antonio, Texas, the board voted to uphold the phase out in apple and pear production of the antibiotic streptomycin, which is set to expire on October 21, 2014. Since petitions to allow the use of all synthetic materials in organic production require a decisive, or 2/3’s, vote under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), the apple and pear industry’s petition to extend was voted down with a vote of 8-7. This vote comes after a similar proposal to extend an exemption for oxytetracycline, another antibiotic used in apple and pear production, was rejected at the spring 2013 NOSB meeting. Beyond Pesticides, with other organizations, has led the effort to remove antibiotics from apple and pear production because of their contribution to antibiotic resistance, organic consumer expectation that antibiotics are not used in organic food production, and the availability of alternative practices and inputs.
In April 2013, the NOSB discussed the problem of antibiotic resistance thoroughly and heard from numerous commenters concerning the problem of antibiotic resistance with respect to its use in orchards. At the Spring meeting, Glenn Morris, M.D, professor of infectious diseases in the University of Florida College of Medicine, stated the following:
“The question is do we go ahead and move forward at this point and stop the usage, given the data that we do have? I think if you say we wait for more studies, we are potentially talking years and a lot of money. And again, while I’m not speaking officially for IDS, the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA), I believe there is a letter from IDSA in your docket, and again the feeling very strongly from the Infectious Disease Society for America is, you know, it’s time to do it now.”
The evidence for streptomycin was even more compelling than it is for tetracycline. Streptomycin may be used later in the growing season, which can lead to more residues and residues of streptomycin have been detected in fruit, as documented by an Austrian study that found highest residues in the core. The genes for streptomycin resistance that are carried on a plasmid are known to confer resistance to streptomycin in human pathogen and streptomycin is classified as a critically important antimicrobial by the World Health Organization (WHO). For more information on antibiotic resistance read Beyond Pesticides Pesticides and You article “Antibiotics in Fruit Production.”
Organic consumers also do not want antibiotics in organic production. Over 400 comments were submitted to the docket with 372 individual comments opposing the extension and organizations like Organic Consumers Association, Food and Water Watch, and Center for food safety collecting close to 83,000 signatures opposed to this extension.
According to Consumers Union’s comments, consumers have come to expect that organic foods are produced without the use of antibiotics. Organic is widely marketed as “no antibiotics,” which has become a consumer expectation. Other segments of the organic market, like organic meat, cheese and milk, have set and met this expectation, and so have organic fruit growers including nectarine and peach growers. Organic apple and pear trees treated with antibiotics simply do not meet consumer expectations. If you are interested in reading further about the comments submitted to the docket on this issue read Beyond Pesticides’ comment summary.
The use of antibiotics in organic apple and pear production is incompatible with sustainable systems. This use of antibiotics does not encourage and enhance preventive techniques, including cultural and biological controls. Compatibility with sustainable and organic principles requires growers to first choose varieties that are not susceptible to important diseases in their region. Other preventive techniques should be used, including site selection, careful fertilization, adequate spacing of trees, and proper pruning practices.
Other Updates from the 2014 NOSB Meeting
The most recent NOSB meeting has been full of fireworks. A protest, staged by representatives of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and March against Monsanto San Antonio (MAMSA), disrupted the first day of the NOSB meeting. The activists came to protest the U.S, Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program’s (NOP) changes to the sunset process for removing non-organic ingredients and materials from the NOP’s National List of substances allowed and prohibited in products certified as organic. The sunset policy, adopted by the NOP without public comment or input, reverses the phase out of synthetics unless recommended for relisting by the NOSB –now allowing synthetics to remain on the market unless they are voted off by a 2/3’s vote. The previous policy of a 2/3’s vote to retain use, subjected synthetics to the same rigorous standard of review that allows these materials on to the National List when initially petitioned and drives the stakeholder board toward consensus.
The NOSB also voted to approve magnesium oxide for use to control the viscosity of a clay suspension agent for natural humates. Beyond Pesticides opposed this approval after the board voted down an expiration date annotation, which would have required the material to be repetitioned in five years, similar to the voting required under the previous sunset process. Beyond Pesticides pointed out that the requirement for a new petition creates an incentive to develop increasingly safer manufacturing processes. Beyond Pesticides’ comments and can be read here. The board did move to send back to the Livestock Subcommittee a proposal to increase flexibility in the amount of methionine allowed in organic poultry production without an assurance that methionine will be reevaluated in five years under a standard as rigorous as the petition process. Those blocking the proposed methionine standard want a five-year expiration annotation attached to the proposal. The board also sent the proposal to approve materials for aquaculture backed to committee and asked for a release of the draft standards for aquaculture before any further actions. Beyond Pesticides will publish more in-depth comments on the recent NOSB board meeting soon, but you can read further about the recent board meeting at Cornucopia’s blog.
The recent contentious NOSB meeting highlights why it is important to advocate for strong organic standards. You can help these efforts to maintain a strong organic program by reading Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong page and taking action on our Save Our Organics page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.