California approves strictest animal antibiotic use law in U.S.

BlackAngusCow2_blogCalifornia recently became the first state to limit the routine use of the drugs in animal agriculture by passing a bill that bans the use of antibiotics in healthy livestock, barring their use to prevent illness or promote growth.

Calling the overuse of antibiotics “an urgent public health problem,” Gov. Jerry Brown said the bill will curb the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, which limits the effectiveness of the medicines in both animals and people and contributes to the spread of dangerous, drug-resistant superbugs that kill 23,000 Americans each year and sicken two million.

Effective January 1, 2018, producers will only be able to administer drugs with the approval of a veterinarian when animals are sick, or to prevent infections when there’s an “elevated risk,” a recent article states. This means producers can no longer use the drugs “in a regular pattern,” which is more restrictive than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s national guidelines that do not restrict use for disease prevention. The law also eliminates the availability of livestock antibiotics for over-the-counter sales.

“I think the bill is basically doing something that we in California have been doing all along, which is phasing out antibiotic use,” Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation, said in the article. “It’s something that the industry is living with. We’re happy to get this bill the way it is, and I think we’re going to see more of this.”

Not long ago, changing the practices of the livestock industry looked like a long-shot battle for consumer advocates. In 2010, national meat industry groups doubted the science connecting antibiotics on the farm to drug-resistant superbugs, and defended antibiotics to “improve the efficiency of beef production,” the article states.

However, since then, consumer demand has driven more companies to kick the antibiotic habit including major fast food chains and large suppliers in the chicken industry, for example.

“I think we’re seeing the marketplace change, and this legislation will continue to push it in that direction,” Jason Pfeifle, a public health advocate in California, said.

Opponents argued that the California legislation does not go far enough to restrict preventive or routine use of antimicrobial drugs. Groups such as the California Cattlemen’s Association remained neutral on the bill while the California Veterinary Medical Association expressed concern that veterinarians might not be able to prescribe the drugs preventively to treat diseases for which there is no test available to determine which animals are carriers.

Small cattle ranchers in rural areas may have a harder time getting medicine approved by a veterinarian, Justin Oldfield, vice president of government relations at the California Cattlemen’s Association, said in the article. However, he rejected the notion that the bill would force producers to change their practices much, suggesting advocates exaggerated how often such drugs are used.

“We’re not routinely feeding animals [antibiotics] all the time for disease prevention,” he said. “We care about antibiotic resistance, just like everybody else does.”

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