Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 10, 2018

Contact:  Nathan Donley, (971) 717-6406,

Antibiotic Use on Oranges Gets Trump Administration’s Approval

Antibiotic Oxytetracycline Allowed Across Nearly Half a Million Acres of Citrus Fruits in Florida, California

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The Trump administration has approved the use of the medically important antibiotic oxytetracycline as a pesticide on citrus fruits like grapefruits, oranges and tangerines anywhere they are grown. The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision, released late Friday, comes just days after the agency approved residues of the antibiotic on fruit.

The EPA’s latest decision paves the way for up to 480,000 acres of citrus trees in Florida to be treated with 388,000 pounds of oxytetracycline per year to combat citrus canker and citrus greening disease. Estimates also indicate 23,000 citrus acres are likely to be treated each year in California.

The approval comes as the rise in deaths due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria has spurred leading researchers to caution against expanding use of antibiotics like oxytetracycline that are used to treat respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

“Spraying this antibiotic on millions of oranges could blunt an important weapon against harmful diseases in people,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As researchers push to curb nonmedical antibiotic use, the EPA is approving a 20-fold increase in oxytetracycline use on citrus farms. That’s bad news for human health and wildlife.”

The analysis that accompanied the decision indicates that there is a “high” probability the use of oxytetracycline on citrus will lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and a “medium risk” of human health being adversely impacted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 2 million people are now infected with antibiotic-resistant organisms each year, leading to an estimated 23,000 deaths. Both the European Union and Brazil have banned the use of oxytetracycline on agricultural plants.

The EPA greenlighted the approval nationwide, despite the fact that the agency failed to fully assess risks to endangered plants and animals and found that treating plants with the antibiotic can harm small herbivorous mammals, like rabbits and chipmunks.

The approval also ignores research indicating oxytetracycline use in agriculture can degrade soil health by killing the beneficial bacteria and fungi that help decompose organic matter into nutrients that plants can use.

The EPA approval came despite numerous concerns about the risks expressed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

“Trump’s EPA is giving a gift to agribusiness that will endanger human health and wildlife,” said Donley. “Citrus greening disease is serious, but using important antibiotics with limited effectiveness against the disease is a terrible idea for fixing the problem.”

This decision is part of a major push to use medically important antibiotics in plant agriculture. Streptomycin, another medically important antibiotic, and oxytetracycline calcium, a different form of the recently approved oxytetracycline, are both in the process of being approved for similar uses on citrus crops.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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