Action of the week is intended to provide you, our supporters and network, with one concrete action that you can take each week to have your voice heard on governmental actions that are harmful to the environment and public and worker health, increase overall pesticide use, or undermine the advancement of organic, sustainable, and regenerative practices and policies. As an example, topics may include toxic chemical use, pollinator protection, organic agriculture and land use, global climate change, and regulatory or enforcement violations.
Tell Congress to stop the Trump administration from opening the floodgates to permit widespread use of antibiotics in citrus production (grapefruits, oranges and tangerines).
Despite the building national and international crisis of deadly bacterial resistance to antibiotics, this new allowance would expand on an emergency use decision the Environmental Protection Agency made in 2017. It permits up to 480,000 acres of citrus trees in Florida to be treated with more than 650,000 pounds of streptomycin per year; 23,000 citrus acres in California will likely be treated annually.
The World Health Organization has called bacterial resistance “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.”
The two approved antibacterial chemicals to be used as pesticides in citrus production are streptomycin and oxytetracycline. Their use was permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under an emergency exemption in May, 2017 for a citrus greening disease caused by the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) in Florida citrus crops through December of 2019.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced March 15, “EPA is issuing these tolerances without notice and opportunity for public comment as provided in FFDCA [Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act] section 408(l)(6).” EPA states, “[T]ime-limited tolerances are established for residues of streptomycin in or on fruit, citrus, group 10-10, at 2 ppm, and the dried pulp of these commodities at 6 ppm.” For oxytetracycline, EPA is allowing residues “in or on all commodities of fruit, citrus, group 10-10, at 0.4 ppm.” [See below; organic standards do not allow antibiotic use.] Now, EPA is moving forward with a permanent allowance of these chemicals.
In addition, both the active and inert ingredients in common herbicides advance antibiotic resistance. Learn more about the history of Resistance and Antibiotics by visiting Beyond Pesticides' Antimicrobials and Antibacterials program page. Pose the question to policy makers: Will we now see an “Antibiotics rebellion”?
Beyond Pesticides, with other organizations, led a successful effort to remove antibiotics from organic apple and pear production because of their contribution to antibiotic resistance and the availability of alternative practices and inputs.
As bacteria become resistant to the most commonly prescribed antibiotics, the results are longer-lasting infections, higher medical expenses, the need for more costly or hazardous medications, and the inability to treat life-threatening infections. The development and spread of antibiotic resistance is the inevitable effect of antibiotic use. Bacteria evolve quickly, and antibiotics provide strong selection pressure for those strains with genes for resistance. Both antibiotics proposed for expanded use are important for fighting human disease. Tetracycline is used for many common infections of the respiratory tract, sinuses, middle ear, and urinary tract, as well as for anthrax, plague, cholera, and Legionnaire's disease, though it is used less frequently because of resistance. Streptomycin is used for tuberculosis, tularemia, plague, bacterial endocarditis, brucellosis, and other diseases, but its usefulness is limited by widespread resistance (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2006).
Exposure to antibiotics can disturb the microbiota in the gut. In addition to interfering with digestion, a disrupted gut microbiome can contribute to a whole host of “21st century diseases,” including diabetes, obesity, food allergies, heart disease, antibiotic-resistant infections, cancer, asthma, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and more. Furthermore, the human immune system is largely composed of microbiota.
As the dust settles on the final Farm Bill, which passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives last month, it is clear that neither the substance nor the process on a range of issues meet the urgent need to address key sustainability issues that put the future in peril.
We must not allow this Farm Bill to be the final word on a number of critical environmental issues facing the nation and world. That is why it is absolutely critical that we get to work immediately, with the new Congress, to set a new course that transforms the institutions of government that are holding back the urgently needed transition to a green economy.
On the Farm Bill, our victories were mostly measured in terms of what we were able to remove from the Farm Bill—not the standard of achievement that we need to face critical environmental threats.
The good. Our major victory in the Farm Bill does not move us forward, but simply protects the status quo of our democracy—protecting the power of states and local government to adopt pesticide restrictions that are more stringent than the federal government. With your help and the help of a broad network of local officials nationwide, we were able to stop a preemption provision from being inserted in the federal pesticide law. Although the victory was in defeating this provision, the chemical industry has awakened a new front in the pesticide reform movement. As a result of this provision, there is new momentum to reassert the rights of local governments and repeal state-level preemption of municipalities. Other environmental setbacks to the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and farmworker protection were taken out of the final bill. So, thank you to all who participated in this important process.
The bad. We were unable to remove an amendment to organic law that introduces confusion on the mandate to sunset all synthetics used in organic agricultural production and processing, forcing the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and USDA to reassess the science and necessity of these inputs with the most rigorous scrutiny by requiring a super-majority vote of the board every five years to allow continued use of these synthetics—the same standard used when synthetics are initially petitioned. The growth of organic is essential to solving our key environmental challenges, from the dramatic decline in biodiversity to global climate change. Nothing should be done to undercut the integrity of the organic standard setting process. Additionally, new language in the organic law allows farmer, handler, and retailer positions on the NOSB to be filled by employees of farmers, handlers, and retailers, making the decision making process less robust.
The ugly. The Farm Bill sets policy on food and farm issues for the next five years and should not be the result of backroom negotiations in Congress, as it was this round. Important and controversial issues deserve public hearings in which all members of Congress and the public can participate, and all perspectives can be heard.
More on organic. There were some “wins” for organic in continued funding for programs important to organic production and research, and necessary improvements to oversight and enforcement of organic imports.
New leadership. Increasing support is being shown for a proposal by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York to form a House Select Committee for a Green New Deal that addresses economic and environmental reforms while ensuring a functioning democracy. A Green New Deal provides a framework for supporting agriculture that helps farmers, consumers, and the environment by advancing organic agriculture. In the words of commentator and former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, “Everybody does better when everybody does better.” We need new food and farm policy that benefits all farmers and consumers.