Antibiotics in Organic Tree Fruit Production — Simple Questions/Answers

by The Cornucopia Institute

Is the Use of This Material a Threat to Human Health?

There is no debate that low level, chronic dietary exposure to antibiotics is deleterious to human health. This is especially important in light of the disproportionate intake of apples and apple products by children.

There’s certainly also legitimate concern in terms of occupational exposure to antibiotics in the workplace (farmers and farmworkers).

Is the Use of This Material a Threat to the Environment?

There is no doubt that applying broad-spectrum antibiotics in pear and apple orchards, using air blast sprayer technology, will have an impact on microbial life and the biodiversity of the farm. I do not know if the exact extent of this has been measured. There’s not much science on this question at this point as most of the antibiotics in food production are used on conventional farms. However, the federal law governing organics mandates that negative impacts to biodiversity be considered.

Is This Material Essential in Organic Production?

It was reported by Washington researchers, at the National Organic Coalition meeting Monday, April 8, that last year, a “bad year” for fire blight in Washington, that only a minimal number of organic producers used antibiotics. Growers producing fruit for export to Europe don’t use antibiotics (they are banned from use under organic regulations in every other country).

The Cornucopia Institute surveyed all certified organic apple and pear growers in the United States. The majority, 56%, have never used oxytetracycline or streptomycin in their orchards. Even in the giant apple producing state of Washington, 54% had never used antibiotics on their trees/fruit.

Obviously, the majority of farmers have proven, by using more conservative cultural practices (not crowding trees, using resistant cultivars and rootstock, etc.) and naturally-based remedies, that the use of antibiotics is not essential in apple production.

Pears are generally much more susceptible to fire blight and more research is necessary before making conclusions about successful alternative production practices.

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