– Antibiotic OK’d for organic orchards (Capital Press, May 12, 2011):
The National Organic Standards Board has approved the use of oxytetracycline and streptomycin to control fire blight in organic pear and apple orchards.
However, the use was extended two years, not the five years sought by many producers and crop specialists speaking during the board’s recent meeting in Seattle.
Deborah Carter of the Northwest Horticultural Council described the devastating effect of fire blight.
“It doesn’t stick to just one tree. It can kill the orchard,” she said.
Without the protection afforded by the use of tetracycline and streptomycin, she said, many organic growers would switch back to conventional production, which does not restrict use of the antibiotic.
The substances have been approved for organic orchard use since 2000.
Don Gibson, a pear orchardist, said some of his trees are more than 100 years old. Older trees are less susceptible, he said, but still a fire blight outbreak cost him a third of his trees.
“Though new varieties are being tested, we rely on tetracycline,” he said.
David Granatstein, sustainable agriculture specialist with Washington State University extension, told the board that red delicious apples, once the dominant variety in Washington, are the most resistant to fire blight. But as other varieties have been introduced, growers have responded to consumer demand by planting more of them. About 90 percent of the state’s organic apple acres are in varieties other than red delicious.
Common dwarfing apple rootstocks are highly susceptible, and resistant rootstocks are not yet commercially available, he said.
When the board’s rulings were released after the Seattle meeting, Granatstein said, “The board flat-out didn’t understand what was going on.”
The reason the antibiotics were given a two-year expiration date, according to the National Organics Program: “Alternative materials are in development and will hopefully be available by the Oct. 21, 2014, deadline.”
Granatstein agreed “a lot of research on biocontrol methods is going on,” but to date they have not been consistent. A new yeast product is being tested, but it hasn’t been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. A resistant rootstock has proven difficult to propagate.
“My guess is (the two-year extension) is kind of a compromise,” Granatstein said.
Recommendations made by the board are not official policy until approved and adopted by USDA.
A complete transcript of the April meeting will be posted on www.ams.usda.gov (click on National Organic Program).