21 January 2021, Washington, D.C: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the use of a previously banned pesticide, aldicarb, and a medically important antibiotic, streptomycin, to address bacterial citrus greening disease, a major threat to Florida’s citrus industry. Prior to this approval, EPA had already approved over 18 different pesticides to combat the disease-carrying bug known as the Asian citrus psyllid.
“Center for Food Safety denounces EPA’s irresponsible decision to permit the use of streptomycin on citrus groves, a practice known to pose significant environmental and human health risks,” stated Jaydee Hanson, policy director at Center for Food Safety. “Streptomycin has only been shown to help against citrus greening when directly injected, and there are already over 18 different products, as well as holistic solutions, available to farmers that can more effectively tackle the spread of the disease. EPA’s decision is reckless and dangerous, a last minute gift to industry lobbyists,” he added.
In the U.S., citrus is grown on 687,000 acres of land largely found in Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas. Streptomycin, a medically important antibiotic critical in treating tuberculosis, is banned for agricultural and/or non-therapeutic use in both the European Union and Brazil and classified as “critically” important by the World Health Organization (WHO). Tuberculosis kills millions of people each year; more than 10 million people were infected in 2020. Before COVID-19, it was the most lethal infectious disease on the planet.
By permitting the spraying of streptomycin on citrus crops in Florida, EPA has set a new precedent with the largest-ever permitted use of a medically important antibiotic in U.S agriculture. The spraying of antibiotics has been shown to be largely ineffective against citrus greening disease, but it is estimated that the approval of streptomycin on citrus could result in the use of more than 650,000 pounds each year in Florida alone. Currently, the U.S. uses over 15,000 pounds of that antibiotic class each year.
Aldicarb is a pesticide that causes nausea, blurred vision, tremors, and other neurotoxic symptoms at extremely low exposure levels, and is also toxic to birds, mammals, and fish. It has been banned in more than a hundred countries across the world. WHO has classified the pesticide as “extremely hazardous.” Aldicarb use in citrus is a serious threat to human health. In 2010, after finding that continued use of aldicarb, particularly in citrus groves, posed high dietary risks to infants and young children, EPA and Bayer agreed to terminate its use in the U.S. EPA also identified significant risks to farmworkers exposed to aldicarb. By permitting its use on citrus crops in Florida, EPA is reintroducing 2.5 million pounds of aldicarb into the environment across 100,000 acres.
“Aldicarb is such a potent nerve toxin that even residues left behind on foods sprayed with it pose unacceptable risks, particularly to infants and young children,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at Center for Food Safety. “The only acceptable level of use is no use whatsoever. Trump EPA’s approval of aldicarb on citrus must be reversed immediately.”
Center for Food Safety has previously met with EPA staff to discuss the issue of antibiotic spraying on citrus crops and submitted public comments addressing the health and environmental risks associated with the practice in March 2019. CFS urges the Biden administration to promptly withdraw this ill-conceived approval of spraying aldicarb and streptomycin on citrus crops.