We hear a lot about antibiotics used to produce our meat. Oranges, not so much. But that's the reality, reports Andrew Jacobs for the New York Times. It's all due to citrus greening disease, which is caused by a bacteria that is spread to orange and grapefruit trees by way of a Chinese insect. The result has been widespread devastation in Florida, but as one farmer tells the Times, there's "hope." It takes the forms of two antibiotics: streptomycin and oxytetracycline. In humans, they're used to treat everything from tuberculosis to syphilis. In the EU and Brazil, their agricultural use is banned, but in the US, it has just been expanded. The EPA has since 2016 given Florida farmers permission to spray the drugs on their trees; another 764,000 acres in states like California and Texas are now also getting the OK.
"The decision paves the way for the largest use of medically important antibiotics in cash crops," writes Jacobs, and the CDC and FDA are not on board. They've opposed the move over the potential for the agricultural usage to cause the germs to mutate and develop a resistance to the drugs. But a plant pathologist counters that per EPA rules, all applications of the drugs must cease 40 days before harvest, so the chance of humans consuming any antibiotics is slim; further, he says the drugs have for decades been used on a small scale to combat a bacterial disease that hits apple and pear trees. But the CDC says streptomycin can stick around in the soil for weeks, and some worry the bacteria could develop resistance there and then make its way to humans via groundwater. Another twist: There are no peer-reviewed studies proving the drugs even work on the disease. Read the full article here. (Read more Longform stories.)