Washington, DC – United States Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) and United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) – joined by their colleagues Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Harley Rouda (D-CA), and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) – sounded alarm bells today over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decisions to allow an unprecedented expansion of the use of the antibiotics streptomycin and oxytetracycline as pesticides in citrus production.

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics has created “superbugs,” strains of bacteria that are resistant to critically important medications and treatments. Antibiotic resistance is a looming public health crisis that could kill an estimated ten million people worldwide annually by 2050, more people than currently die from cancer each year.

EPA’s proposed decision would allow agribusiness to spray more than 650,000 pounds of streptomycin on citrus trees every year, over 40 times as much as is used each year to treat human disease in the United States. EPA’s final approval for oxytetracycline will allow agribusiness to spray up to 388,000 pounds per year, 130,000 pounds more than all tetracyclines used for human medicine in the United States annually. The unprecedented expansion of the use of these two antibiotics could make them ineffective in treating diseases for which they are currently needed, including syphilis, urinary tract infections, tuberculosis, and chlamydia.

“EPA appears to have pursued these proposals despite warnings by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that massive agricultural use of these crucial, life-saving antibiotics could spur antimicrobial resistance and create unreasonably high risks to human health,” wrote the lawmakers in a joint letter to the EPA. “Given these serious public health risks and the scientific evidence indicating that additional agricultural use of these pesticides will increase those risks, we urge you to reconsider these decisions.”

Environmentalists and public health advocates believe EPA’s decisions regarding the uses of streptomycin and oxytetracycline were flawed, based on bad data provided by big agribusiness and ignoring critical risks to human health. A new study by citrus researchers at the University of Florida found that spraying massive quantities of oxytetracycline was not even effective at treating the bacterial infection it has been intended to fight. 

Click here to read the letter.