December 8, 2019

EPA Wants to Spray Antibiotics to Stop Citrus Greening Disease

Advocates from environmental and public health groups have delivered a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency asking them to delay a proposal to spray antibiotic on citrus fields to treat a pathogen that causes citrus greening disease, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Advocates think that this action could make bacterial antibiotic resistance worse.

Citrus greening disease

Citrus greening is a bacterial disease. Florida citrus trees are being destroyed by this pathogen and have been for more than 10 years. The pathogen is spread through an invasive insect. The bugs move through the tree’s vascular tissue under the bark.

Steven Roach, a senior analyst at Keep Antibiotics Working, said of the plan,”They are doing a huge experiment with limited monitoring.” Officials estimate that about 90% of that state’s citrus trees are infected.

If the proposal goes through, growers could spray more than 650,000 pounds of the antibiotic streptomycin on citrus fields every year. Streptomycin is in the class of antibiotics that the World Health Organization considers critically important to human health. Humans only use 14,000 pounds of that particular antibiotic every year.

Matt Wellington, U.S. PIRG’s Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics campaign director said in a statement, “The more you use antibiotics, the greater the risk that bacteria resistant to the drugs will flourish and spread. The bottom line is that the potential problems created by spraying massive amounts of streptomycin on citrus fields could outweigh the original problem the EPA wants to solve.”

If the EPA goes through with this proposal, it would be the largest ever use of a medically important antibiotics in plant agriculture in U.S. history. The Center for Biological Diversity states that spraying antibiotics on citrus fields does not cure citrus greening disease or prevent its spread. No studies about potential antibiotic resistance with this proposal have been submitted to the EPA.

In addition to creating more antibiotic resistant bacteria, the use of such large quantities of antibiotic could harm foraging mammals such as chipmunks and rabbits.

About 160,000 Americans die every year from antibiotic-resistant infections. Overusing antibiotics in any setting, whether it’s factory farms, human medicine, or farm fields, increases the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

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