Public Health Claims Victory As U.S. Appeals Court Bans Human Antibiotic Use As Citrus Pesticide


In a significant victory for public health, environmental conservation, and the well-being of farmworkers, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a ruling this month that stands in favor of overturning the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approval of a human antibiotic for use as a pesticide on citrus crops.

The decision, which comes as a response to a legal challenge presented by farmworkers and public-interest groups, deems the EPA’s 2021 approval of streptomycin for spraying on citrus crops as unlawful under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The court’s ruling not only declares the EPA’s decision as illegal but also emphasizes the gravity of the issue at hand, leading to a directive that the EPA must revoke its approval of streptomycin as a ‘pesticide.’

Beyond questioning the legality of the decision, the court compels the EPA to conduct a more robust analysis of potential risks to pollinators and evaluate the actual effectiveness of streptomycin in achieving its intended purpose.

Streptomycin, traditionally employed in treating severe human illnesses such as tuberculosis and urinary tract infections, has found an unconventional application as a pesticide on citrus crops. The concern surrounding this practice lies in the overuse of medically-important antibiotics, a factor contributing to the alarming rise of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. This escalating public health crisis is responsible for more than 35,000 deaths annually in the United States alone, according to data from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“We don’t need to blast medically important antibiotics into the environment. We do not have to choose between a stable food supply AND pollinators–we need both,” said Allison Johnson, Senior Attorney at the NRDC.

“Organic producers show that we do not have to sacrifice one for the other by building healthy farm ecosystems without wanton antibiotic usage.”

Integral to the legal battle was the Farmworker Association of Florida, an advocacy group committed to safeguarding the interests of agricultural workers laboring in the fields. Their involvement highlights the belief that these workers have a right to a workplace free from avoidable threats to their health.

Particularly compelling is the assertion that the spraying of antibiotics on citrus crops “has not been proven effective in treating citrus diseases,” says the advocates for both the environment and workers’ health.

This legal triumph serves as a crucial step towards aligning agricultural practices with public health and environmental stewardship. By challenging the EPA’s approval of streptomycin as a pesticide, the court decision emphasizes the need for thorough assessments of potential harm to ecosystems and the importance of ensuring that such interventions are genuinely effective in achieving their intended goals.