Most of us assume that the food we buy at the grocery store must be safe. Like a good old fashioned organic apple. Nothing could be safer than that, right? You know, mom’s apple pie?
Maybe not. Since 2002, organic apple and pear growers have been allowed to use the antibiotics oxytetracycline and streptomycin to treat fire blight in apple and pear production. Growers spray the trees with these broad spectrum antibiotics to control fire blight. Then they turn around and sell their fruit with the organic label.
How did this happen? Are the antibiotics just necessary to combat fire blight? In short, no. There are already a number of non-antibiotic products available that are effective in controlling fire blight. As well, fire blight has developed resistance to streptomycin rendering it useless. And this protocol for treating fire blight is not universal. These antibiotics are already banned in the European Union, so any pear or apple grown in the United State for export to Europe must be grown without them.
Luckily, change is coming. As of October 2014 the use of antibiotics to control fire blight will not be allowed under national organic standards, thanks to pressure from consumer advocacy groups. While this is a good first step, there is still work to be done. Already, some people are negotiating behind the scenes to allow for limited or emergency spraying until 2017.
So what’s the answer here? Get to know you local grower. Eat food that is truly in season, and vote with your food dollars. It may not be easy to source local food all the time, but considering the alternatives, it does merit our effort to ensure we are eating food that is good for us, our families and our environment.