|© Beyond Pesticides|
The EPA granted the exception last week for streptomycin and oxytetracycline, which will be used to treat citrus greening, a bacterial disease caused by the Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus pathogen. Beyond Pesticides says that in granting the exemption – which will extend through December of 2019 – the EPA did not consider the public health impact of bacterial resistance on consumers, particularly sensitive groups such as children.
A frightening trends towards increasingly-toxic pesticide usage
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services requested that the EPA use its authority under Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act to grant the exemption – in spite of evidence that agricultural use of antibiotics increases bacterial resistance. Under Section 18, also known as the emergency exemption program, the EPA can allow the use of pesticides that are completely unregistered – or, not registered for use on a particular crop.
The USDA has predicted that Florida’s orange harvest will be low this year due to citrus greening, with orange yields representing roughly half of what the crop was five years ago. Calling the use of streptomycin “an attempt to find a short-term fix,” Beyond Pesticides maintains that growers should instead have examined the root causes of the poor harvest and worked to improve soil and organic systems.
Beyond Pesticides notes that the exemption reflects the EPA’s history of allowing increasing dependency on highly toxic pesticides – in spite of the fact that they are unsustainable, harmful to people and the environment, and are being used when safe alternatives exist. The group likens the situation to a “toxic treadmill,” indicative of the same thinking that allows for the advent of new 2,4-D-tolerant corn to replace Roundup Ready corn.
Environmentalists fear this exemption parallels the approaching 2,4-D debacle
The USDA is currently in the process of deregulating new varieties of crops that are resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D,a a neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor associated with increased cancer risk. Environmentalists expect that the deregulation will create a dramatic increase in the use of 2,4-D – which is what happened with glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
In addition to being linked with increased incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 2,4-D is toxic to fish, honeybees and earthworms, and can leach from soil and contaminate groundwater.
Staggering amounts of antibiotics will be used
Noting that Florida oranges are eaten across the nation, Beyond Pesticides insists that the EPA’s decision increases the likelihood that humans will be exposed to antibiotics. Streptomycin is typically registered for peaches, pears and apples – but not oranges – and is used to treat bacterial infections in humans.
The tolerance for streptomycin residue is set at 2 parts per million for the fresh fruit, and 6 ppm for the dried pulp. For oxytetracycline, the tolerance is set at 0.4 ppm.
The nonprofit coalition Keep Antibiotics Working estimates that the state of Florida requested the use of 36 times as much streptomycin – and four times as much oxytetracycline – as are used by patients nationwide in a year.
Antibiotic resistance is already a grave threat to your health
Bacterial resistance is currently deemed one of the “biggest threats to global health, food security and development today” by the World Health Organization.
And, pathogens don’t even need to be contacted or sprayed by the antibiotic for resistance to develop. Scientists report that the movement of genes in bacteria does not just go from parent to progeny in a “vertical” motion, but can proceed horizontally – moving from one bacterial species to another in a mechanism known as HGT, or horizontal gene transfer.
When bacteria in plants and soil are sprayed with an antibiotic, those bacteria with genes for resistance to the antibiotic will survive and increase – while those vulnerable to the antibiotics will be killed.
Antibiotic spraying could also create resistance within the bacteria responsible for citrus greening.
Beyond Pesticides has long called for strict regulations to eliminate the use of agricultural antibiotics, saying they lead to antibiotic resistance, create residues in manure and cause contamination of the waterways. The group also calls for a widespread shift to certified organic food production – in which the use of antibiotics on citrus is prohibited.
Unless these measures are enacted, antibiotic resistance may maintain its deadly momentum, threatening human health and the health of the environment. But is anyone listening?