At its spring 2013 meeting, The National Organic Standards Board voted not to extend the deadline of the expiration date in the allowance of the antibiotic tetracycline for organic apple and pear production.

The decision came after a petition was presented to the board. The petition proposed an extension to the allowed usage period in order to provide more time for research and product development, according to an official talking points document from the Organic Trade Association.

As a result of the decision, tetracycline use will not be allowed in organic production after Oct. 21, 2014.

However, after the 9-6 vote failure of the petition, the board did pass a back-up recommendation requesting that the National Organic Program investigate their ability to allow the emergency use of tetracycline for fire blight between Oct. 21, 2014, and Oct. 21, 2017.

The results of this vote could have major implications for organic growers.

“This decision by NOSB to end the allowance of tetracycline before proven alternatives become available may force many organic growers to return to conventional farming because of the high potential to lose entire orchards to fire blight,” the organic association document stated.

Addie Pobst, imports and sustainability, organic integrity and food safety lead, Viva Tierra Organic Inc., Sedro-Woolley, Wash., agreed the decision could have negative effects on growers.

“This means there are only two growing seasons before that material is no longer allowed, and we’re not 100% sure what we’ll be using to replace it to control fire blight,” she said.

Pobst said the company, and the industry, may need to replace the antibiotic with more than one solution.

“It may not be just one system that works. It’s likely each growing region will develop its own protocol because what works in California will be different than what works in eastern Washington,” she said.

Despite research advances and potential substitutes, Pobst said she is a little disappointed in the decision.

“We’d hoped we’d have another two-year extension because this puts us in a little bit of a crunch,” she said.

Even though the new solutions have potential, they have a long way to go before they are ready for use.

“A lot of the new research shows promise, but they are unlikely to be fully registered and commercially available by that time,” Pobst said.

Once the new treatments are researched and designed, they still need time for testing and then to set up manufacturing and distribution.

“We’re just really uncertain if those new materials will be available, so there are a lot of questions right now,” Pobst said.

The Organic Trade Association’s talking points document states that a critical component of the success of future non-antibiotic fire blight control is the EPA registration of a new copper material called Previsto, which may not occur until summer of 2014.