For Immediate Release, December 19, 2019

Contact:

Hannah Connor, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 681-1676, hconnor@biologicaldiversity.org
Jeannie Economos, Farmworker Association of Florida, (407) 886-5151, farmworkerassoc@aol.com

Legal Petition Urges Trump FDA to Label Fruit Sprayed With Antibiotics

WASHINGTON— Conservation and farmworker groups filed a formal legal petition today urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require labels alerting consumers that oranges and other fruits have been sprayed with antibiotics before harvest.

The petition was filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health, Farmworker Association of Florida, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Migrant Clinicians Network and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

It follows the Environmental Protection Agency’s emergency approvals of the medically important antibiotics streptomycin and oxytetracycline for use as pesticides on citrus and other crops over the past three years. The Trump EPA recently further approved oxytetracycline for non-emergency use and has proposed to do the same with streptomycin.

“Trump’s EPA is recklessly putting us all at greater risk from antibiotic-resistant bacteria by allowing these important medicines to be used as pesticides,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Consumers should at least be able to make a well-informed choice about whether they want to buy oranges and other produce sprayed with antibiotics.”

The overuse of antibiotics, which are essential to treating human disease, threatens public health because it can lead to “superbugs,” bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections — causing 35,000 deaths — occur in the United States each year. That means, on average, someone in the Untied States gets an antibiotic-resistant infection every 11 seconds, and every 15 minutes someone dies as a result.

These uses also threaten the health of farmworkers, who can be directly exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that have developed in fields following regular, widespread application of antibiotics.

“The people who harvest our food — the farmworkers — are on the front lines of exposure to antibiotics used as pesticides, and they are the least able to cope with any consequent health impacts,” said Jeannie Economos, pesticide safety and environmental health project coordinator at the Farmworker Association of Florida. “The vast majority of farmworkers do not have health insurance or easy access to health care, and their children are at greatest risk, including those threats that are caused by antibiotic resistance. It is a grave injustice that the people who do some of the most important work in the country — feeding the rest of us — should be ‘invisible’ to those making these dangerous decisions. Our nation's public health is at risk.”

Beyond human-health concerns, antibiotic exposure can hurt water quality, soil health and wildlife. Antibiotics have been known to alter the makeup of bees’ gut microbiome, making them more susceptible to infection and disease.

“No one wants to be told the drugs just aren’t working, but each year for nearly 3 million Americans, that’s the reality,” said Curtis Morris, a campaign associate with U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Hold the Antibiotics. “For the future of public health, we need to rein in antibiotic overuse, and if consumers are aware of how their food is produced, they’ll have the power to avoid antibiotics and put market pressure on companies that misuse them.”

Background

In the United States approximately 80,000 pounds each of streptomycin and oxytetracycline were used on plants in 2016. Since then these uses are believed to have increased, with estimates indicating a jump to more than 388,000 pounds of oxytetracycline used per year — 130,000 pounds more than all annual domestic tetracycline use in human medicine.

In addition, the FDA reported last week, 2018 saw a 9 percent increase in the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, despite the agency’s efforts to lower that amount.

The CDC has determined that the medically important antibiotics the EPA has approved for expanded pesticide use on crops can facilitate antibiotic resistance in bacteria that pose “urgent” and “serious” threats to human health. These harmful antibiotic-resistant bacteria include MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

Antibiotic resistance can lead to severe illness, prolonged hospital stays and death.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.