Fire blight: Yeast and copper sprays provide organic alternative to soon-to-be banned chemical antibiotics

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 by: PF Louis
Tags: fire blight, organic alternatives, chemical antibiotics

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(NaturalNews) Bet you didn't know that many organic apples and pears have been produced in orchards that spray antibiotics onto their trees. Two pharmaceutical antibiotics, oxytetracycline and streptomycin, have been used by organic apple and pear growers to combat a bacterial infection known as fire blight. But that's coming to an end soon with natural agents that are proven to protect fruit trees from fire blight.

The pathogenic bacteria are able to lie dormant in orchard trees. When the fruit tree flowers blossom, the bacteria are activated and expand rapidly into colonies that infect and destroy the tree. Fire blight is spread by rain, wind, butterflies and bees. From that one short period when the blossoms bloom, a whole orchard can become contaminated. Thus far, oxytetracycline and streptomycin have been the antibiotics protecting orchards from fire blight's ruin.

The USDA's National Organic Program from 2002 has allowed antibiotics to control fire blight on apples and pears because no effective alternative was available at the time. The only solution was to grow apples and pears that were naturally resistant to fire blight. But the public is very unfamiliar with them, and trying to create a new market could be disastrous for some fruit growers.

Now the USDA is looking into banning the antibiotic spraying of organic pome fruit trees, which is to be replaced with yeast-based and copper solutions that have shown positive results after three years of small-scale trials.

Orchard fruit growers divided about latest organic alternatives

The Europeans and Canadians have been using copper solutions to protect against fire blight successfully for some years now. Their non-antibiotic practice has led to protecting consumers against apples or pears imported from the United States by accepting only organic fruits from orchard growers who don't use antibiotics against fire blight.

But many growers don't have an export market concern that would welcome a shift to a non-antibiotic position. Nevertheless, since 2006, apple exports from the USA to EU nations have dropped around 70 percent.

And there are concerns that, if the GMO Arctic apple is given USDA approval as expected, the whole export business may collapse. For now, many organic apple and pear growers feel righteous about using the antibiotics for three reasons:

(1) Antibiotic spraying is performed during flowering only and not while they're actually producing fruit;
(2) Regarding the antibiotic resistance issue, 80 percent of all antibiotics are used on cattle, pig poultry and fish farms, while merely 0.5 percent are used on organic apple and pear orchards;
(3) Uncertainty of logistical practicality in large orchards away from Oregon State University's (OSU) small apple orchards where they were tested and potential of ruining the soil with copper solutions.

But according to senior plant pathologist and professor at OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, Ken Johnson, new water-soluble copper products, such as Cueva and Previsto, contain low concentrations of the metal, which lessens its negative effects while still combating fire blight. "Whereas growers used to be scared to spray copper, the solubilized versions are safer than coppers from yesteryear," Johnson added.

Professor Johnson also had access for three years to Blossom Protect, a yeast solution that clings to apple blossoms and pears and prevents colonization of fire blight bacteria. It was developed in Europe and registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2012. In apples, it was 90 percent effective when sprayed after lime sulfur spraying.

Regardless of the outcome with this current organic fruit issue, don't let it discourage you from organic apples. Non-organic apples carry more pesticide residues than any other fruits or vegetables, according to the Environmental Working Group.

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