The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Nathan Donley, Center for Biological Diversity,
Steven Roach, Food Animal Concerns Trust,

Documents: Powerful Pro-Pesticide Groups Shaped U.S. Push to Weaken International Oversight of Medically Important Antibiotics

Same industry groups advocate for use of antibiotics as pesticides.


U.S. efforts to weaken international guidelines on the use of medically important antibiotics in food production were heavily influenced by powerful agribusiness trade groups like CropLife America that advocate for use of antibiotics as pesticides, according to public records obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The private industry groups were invited to shape and give final approval to U.S. opposition to an international committee's recommendation that agricultural crops be monitored for use of, and resistance to, antibiotics considered to be critical in the global fight to combat highly infectious diseases like tuberculosis.

"Promoting the use of medically important antibiotics as pesticides endangers public health," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center. "With thousands of Americans dying from antibiotic resistance every year, we need physicians and public health experts guiding these policy choices, not a pesticide industry trade group."

The agribusiness groups were invited by federal officials to edit U.S. recommendations on the monitoring of agricultural antibiotic use for what's known as Codex Alimentarius, international standards established by the United Nations and the World Health Organization to protect consumer health and fair food-trade practices through voluntary guidelines and codes of practice.

"The same U.S. agencies working with the agriculture industry to block efforts to create strong international standards on antibiotic resistance in food acknowledge that many U.S. resistant foodborne infections come from outside the country," said Steven Roach, director of food safety programs at Food Animal Concerns Trust. "Getting these under control require the strong international standards the U.S. is blocking."

The documents obtained by the Center reveal the trade groups' role in a successful effort to prevent language recommending monitoring of antibiotic resistance in crops from being incorporated in the 2018 draft guidance by the Codex Intergovernmental Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance.

The groups were also successful in preventing language that would increase oversight of agricultural fungicides, which have been implicated in the development of drug-resistant fungi that can be lethal to humans, including Aspergillus fumigatus and Candida auris, from being incorporated into the draft document.

The task force's guidance is scheduled to be finalized next year.

Antibiotics are increasingly being used in the United States as pesticides to kill bacteria that can harm crops. Recent approvals for antibiotic spraying on citrus have increased their use on popular U.S. food crops like oranges, nectarines and grapefruit.

Overusing antibiotics in any setting fuels the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.

Recent research suggests that up to 162,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. The WHO ranked antibiotic resistance among the top 10 health threats in 2019.

Further details, background and links to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act are available here.

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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