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FSANZ risk assessment on antibiotic use in New Zealand apples

(13 May 2011)

FSANZ has completed a risk assessment on the use of antimicrobials in some New Zealand apple orchards in response to concerns about possible health and safety risks.

The antimicrobial, streptomycin is used in a small proportion of New Zealand apple orchards (about five per cent) to control the plant disease fire blight.

Following its risk assessment FSANZ has concluded there is a negligible food safety concern. This view has been confirmed by internationally recognised experts in the field of antimicrobial resistance, who have peer-reviewed the FSANZ assessment.

Key points from the risk assessment:

  • Only a small proportion of apple orchards in New Zealand are treated with streptomycin during each growing season (less than five per cent in 2009-10). When used, it is applied to trees during blossom, or three to six months before harvesting of mature fruit.
  • The possibility of residues of streptomycin being present on apples is minimal. This is due to the time period between treatment of the orchard and harvesting of mature fruit, as well as practices undertaken by growers which limit the potential retention of residues on fruit.
  • Like many antimicrobials, streptomycin is produced by a bacterium commonly found in soil (Streptomyces griseus). There is a background level of bacteria naturally resistant to streptomycin in the environment.
  • The use of streptomycin in human medicine is extremely limited, with alternative classes of antimicrobials available to treat most infections.
  • The consumption of apples imported from New Zealand poses a negligible increased risk to Australian consumers from potential exposure to antimicrobial resistant organisms.

Read the full risk assessment here. [ pdf | word ]

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