Board asks USDA to consider 'safety net' for tetracycline use

Steve Brown/Capital Press Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the USDA, breaks for lunch after the morning session of the National Organic Standards Board, meeting April 10 in Portland. McEvoy, who pioneered the organic program at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, serves as director of the National Organic Program.


Capital Press

PORTLAND -- After the National Organic Standards Board rejected a proposal to extend the use of tetracycline in organic apple and pear orchards, members considered a "safety net" for growers to deal with fire blight outbreaks.

Just as the board's semi-annual meeting drew near a close April 11, chairman Mac Stone said reacting hastily and voting right away on the proposed safety net was not a good idea.

"We need to give it more time to senesce into a program and a procedure," he said. "Everyone needs to have a look at this, to read it and digest it."

"Our mandate is to advise the secretary (of agriculture)," and it's better to have a motion on the record and not wait until the next meeting, Nick Maravell, a diversified organic farmer who represents grower interests on the board, said.

The board approved an alternative proposal, requesting the National Organic Program investigate the secretary's ability to invoke his authority under the Emergency Spray Provision to allow emergency use of tetracycline from Oct. 21, 2014, to Oct. 21, 2017.

Before the long-awaited vote on extending the use of the antibiotic, the board members explained their individual thoughts about the issue. Several who opposed extending the cutoff date from 2014 to 2016 expressed their misgivings about the effect such an action might have on growers.

Jean Richardson, an organic maple syrup producer who represents consumer interests on the board, said that even though she had heard no evidence of tetracycline residue on fruit, consumers don't want antibiotics on their organic food.

"I understand my vote against extension will have a serious economic impact on producers," she said, "and I'm sorry about that."

Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the USDA and director of the National Organic Program, said the antibiotic issue is not the first sticky subject the board has had to address. Earlier controversies involved sulfites in wine and the pasturing requirements for organic livestock. He said the next divisive issue is aquaculture standards, which will be on the NOSB's fall agenda.

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