Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 11, 2020


Emily Knobbe, (202) 849-8400,

EPA Extends ‘Emergency’ Antibiotic Use on California, Florida Citrus Crops

Approval of Streptomycin as Pesticide Sidesteps Full Safety Assessment

WASHINGTON— The Trump Environmental Protection Agency has quietly approved “emergency” use of the medically important antibiotic streptomycin on citrus crops like oranges, tangerines and grapefruits in Florida and California.

The so-called emergency approvals are controversial because they sidestep pesticide safety reviews and because the World Health Organization has discouraged overuse of this antibiotic. Streptomycin is “critically” important to treating human diseases, including tuberculosis, experts say.

The emergency exemptions, issued months ago but never publicly announced, extend streptomycin use until April in California and through December in Florida. It was the fifth consecutive year the exemptions have been granted to combat citrus greening disease.

“Using the antibiotic we rely on to beat back TB as a short-term fix for a fruit disease defies all reason,” said Emily Knobbe, an EPA policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “By routinely handing out emergency exemptions like candy, the EPA has made a joke of the pesticide-approval process that’s supposed to protect people and wildlife from harmful chemicals.”

For years the EPA has routinely been allowing use of a range of unapproved pesticides, including antibiotics, under the pretext of an “emergency” when no actual emergency exists, according to an analysis by the Center.

Overuse of antibiotics is of particular concern because it increases antibiotic resistance, which kills an estimated 35,000 people every year. Yet the EPA has used the emergency exemption to approve the use of medically important antibiotics on crops across 23,000 acres of California cropland and more than 330,000 acres of Florida farmland.

In December 2018 the EPA announced that it was considering fast-tracking a full registration of streptomycin. Thousands of commenters wrote to the agency expressing grave concern due to its need for additional data collection and the lack of attention to the growing risk of antibacterial resistance.

The Center is currently litigating the EPA’s failure to release documents relating to concerns expressed by the Centers for Disease Control about the use of antibiotics on crops.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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