Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

For Immediate Release

Contact

Fabiola Nuñez, NRDC, (786) 999-2138, fnunez@nrdc.org

Nathan Donley, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6406, ndonley@biologicaldiversity.org

Matt Wellington, U.S. PIRG, (845) 591-5646, mwellington@pirg.org

Nydia Gutierrez, Earthjustice, (202) 302-7531, ngutierrez@earthjustice.org

Press Release

Lawsuit Challenges EPA Approval of the Use of Medically Important Antibiotic as a Pesticide on Citrus Crops

Streptomycin Use Allowed on More Than 650,000 Acres in Florida, California
WASHINGTON -

A coalition of public interest groups, including farmworker, health justice and conservation organizations, sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today for approving widespread spraying of streptomycin, a medically important antibiotic, on citrus trees to prevent or treat citrus greening disease or citrus canker. The practice of spraying antibiotics on trees has proven highly ineffective in combating these diseases, and it can drive antibiotic resistance in bacteria that threaten human health.

The EPA failed to ensure that the approved uses of streptomycin as a pesticide would not cause unreasonable harm to human health or the environment and failed to adequately assess impacts to endangered species, according to the lawsuit.

Streptomycin, which is banned from use on crops in many countries, belongs to a class of antibiotics the World Health Organization (WHO) considers “critically” important to treating human disease, such as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have expressed concerns about the use of medically important antibiotics as pesticides and have spoken out publicly against it.

"Farmworkers are already exposed to a mix of toxic pesticides in the course of their daily work," said Jeannie Economos, Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator at Farmworker Association of Florida. “It is unconscionable for EPA to use farmworkers as guinea pigs when it comes to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that risks the health of them and their children. Instead of promoting this risky false solution, EPA should look at effective ways to control citrus diseases that are safe for our food supply and for the essential workers and their families who sustain our food system.”

The agency’s decision greenlights the use of more than 650,000 pounds of streptomycin on citrus crops in Florida and California alone. By contrast, the United States currently uses only about 14,000 pounds of aminoglycosides, the antibiotic class that includes streptomycin, for medical purposes each year.

The EPA’s approval of streptomycin as a pesticide followed a similar approval two years ago of the “highly” important antibiotic oxytetracycline for use on the same citrus crops.

“Allowing life-saving antibiotics to be used as pesticides is an unnecessary and dangerous practice that fuels a growing public health epidemic: antibiotic resistance,” said Allison Johnson, Sustainable Food Policy Advocate at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The EPA should be championing agricultural practices that protect farm workers and their communities, public health, and the environment–like building healthy soil and diversified farming–not increasing the use of dangerous pesticides.”

Recent research suggests that antibiotic resistance is on the rise nationally, with an estimated 162,000 people in the United States dying each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. Furthermore, the misuse of antibiotics has fueled resistance in tuberculosis-causing bacteria; the global TB pandemic still kills more than 1 million people around the world every year.

“To jeopardize an essential tool in controlling the global tuberculosis pandemic by allowing it to be sprayed on citrus trees is the height of irresponsibility,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Leading global health officials are sounding the alarm about overuse of essential medicines like streptomycin, yet the EPA’s pesticide office is recklessly blessing its use as a pesticide.”

The WHO ranked antibiotic resistance among the top 10 health threats in 2019.

"The more you use antibiotics, the greater the risk that bacteria resistant to the drugs will flourish and spread. Experts estimate that drug-resistant infections could kill 10 million people globally per year by 2050--nearly four times as many people who have died worldwide from COVID-19," said Matt Wellington, Public Health Campaigns Director for U.S. PIRG. “Spraying medically important antibiotics on citrus crops is absurd under any circumstances, but it’s especially absurd when we know it's not going to solve the citrus industry's problems.”

The EPA’s own analysis indicates that the widespread use of streptomycin could also have harmful long-term effects on mammals that forage in treated fields. The agency has not analyzed how this change could affect specific endangered and threatened mammals that forage or nest in and around these citrus groves, or that rely on waterways contaminated by the antibiotic. Nor has EPA adequately assessed the risk that streptomycin poses to pollinators, whose health and survival are already compromised by a wide range of stressors, including other pesticides.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida (ECOSWF), Farmworker Association of Florida, Farmworker Justice, Migrant Clinicians Network, NRDC and U.S. PIRG. Parties are represented by in-house counsel and Earthjustice.

More information available here.

###

NRDC works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. We combine the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.

Mark Meadows 'Did Seek That Pardon, Yes Ma'am,' Hutchinson Testifies

The former aide confirmed that attorney Rudy Giuliani also sought a presidential pardon related to the January 6 attack.

Jessica Corbett ·


UN Chief Warns of 'Ocean Emergency' as Leaders Confront Biodiversity Loss, Pollution

"We must turn the tide," said Secretary-General António Guterres. "A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future."

Julia Conley ·


'I Don't F—ing Care That They Have Weapons': Trump Wanted Security to Let Armed Supporters March on Capitol

"They're not here to hurt me," Trump said on the day of the January 6 insurrection, testified a former aide to ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Jake Johnson ·


Facebook Removing Posts About Mailing Abortion Pills—But Not Guns

"Corporations are not your allies in the advancement of civil rights," said one observer.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Morally Bankrupt' G7 Slammed for 'Caving' to Fossil Fuel Lobby on Climate

"People in poverty around the world will pay the highest price for this backtrack by some of the wealthiest countries," one activist warned of the group's new statement on gas investments.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo