EPA Asked to Reject Expanded Use of Medically Important Antibiotic on Citrus Crops

For Immediate Release

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Hannah Connor, (202) 681-1676, hconnor@biologicaldiversity.org

EPA Asked to Reject Expanded Use of Medically Important Antibiotic on Citrus Crops

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Center for Biological Diversity and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future today asked the Environmental Protection Agency to reject a pesticide company’s request to permanently approve the use of a medically important antibiotic called oxytetracycline as a herbicide on citrus crops.

The antibiotics oxytetracycline and streptomycin are critical to protecting human health worldwide. But the EPA recently granted an emergency exemption allowing their use as pesticides to suppress citrus greening disease in Florida. NuFarm Americas Inc. then requested that the EPA permanently “register” oxytetracycline to approve its ongoing use as a pesticide product on crops like grapefruits, oranges and tangerines. The comment period for this request closes today. 

“Since tens of thousands of people are dying every year as a result of antibiotic-resistant infections, it’s outrageous that the EPA is allowing, and may even expand, the use of antibiotics as pesticides,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center. “This is a careless, shortsighted practice that contributes to the reduced effectiveness of these drugs.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant organisms each year, leading to an estimated 23,000 deaths.

Antibiotics such as oxytetracycline and streptomycin have transformed human and veterinary medicine, making once-lethal infections and diseases readily treatable and curable. For more than 10 years the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have recognized these drugs as being “highly important” or “critically important” to human medicine — including playing a vital global role in combating tuberculosis. But the misuse and overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the spread of bacteria that are resistant to them, triggering growing international concern over the continuing long-term ability of these drugs to tackle disease.

Exposure to antibiotics can have serious unintended side effects for wildlife, which include adverse drug reactions, and antibiotics used in the environment can cause changes in the chemical composition and pH of waters and soils, with potentially serious consequences.

“In addition to threatening human health, escalating antibiotic abuse may threaten the health of our soils, water and wildlife,” said Connor. “We cannot expect to solve every problem by simply dumping antibiotics on it.”

Today's comments to the EPA strongly oppose the use of oxytetracycline for pesticidal purposes on crops. Pesticide use registrations and emergency exemptions are considered by the agency under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, a federal statute that provides for regulation of pesticide distribution, sale and use.

In 2015 the director of the World Health Organization described the alarming scope of the problem by saying, “[w]ithout harmonized and immediate action on a global scale, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era in which common infections could once again kill.”

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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