California Regulates the Rampant Use of Antibiotics on Livestock

Monday, October 12, 2015
(photo: United States Geological Survey)

Last year, Governor Brown used the presence of new federal regulations, and the promise of overachieving compliance in California, as reasons to veto state legislation outlawing the routine use of antibiotics in livestock. 

Last week, he signed similar legislation, creating the strictest law in the nation.

Senate Bill 27 “addresses an urgent public health problem,” Brown wrote in his signing statement. “The science is clear that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock has contributed to the spread of antibiotic resistance and the undermining of decades of life-saving advances in medicine.”

No more over-the-counter antibiotics for livestock.

The new law will require a prescription from a veterinarian for the use of therapeutic antibiotics on livestock. It bans the use of low-level antibiotics for anything, including maintenance and prevention. And someone will have to keep track of what drugs the animals do get and report it.

That’s a far sight stronger than the federal regulations that are largely voluntary and easy to manipulate. Low-level doses are often used to maintain animal health in the face of inhumane conditions that produce disease and infection.

Four out of five antibiotic doses dished out in the United States go to livestock. That’s a problem for the livestock, and humans. Bacteria survive the onslaught by mutating into super-bugs, which sicken around 2 million Americans a year and kill 23,000 of them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But it’s all in a good cause. Around 80% of the antibiotics used in livestock is for nontherapeutic reasons. The drugs aren’t curing a malady, they are enhancing the product. It’s been that way since scientists first realized in the 1950s that chickens plumped up when shot up with antibiotics.

A regimen of antibiotics hides many faults.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knew in the 1970s that this expanded use of antibiotics had health consequences, but proposals to do something about it did not move forward.  

California’s law takes effect on January 1, 2018.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Governor Signs Bill Regulating Animal Antibiotics (by Lydia Zuraw, Food Safety News)

Antibiotics Ban: California Becomes First State to Outlaw Routine Use of the Bacteria-Fighting Drugs in Livestock (by Jessica Calefati, San Jose Mercury News)

California Adopts Tough Rules for Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals (by Lisa Baertlein, Reuters)

California Sets Strictest Antibiotics Standards for Livestock Use in the Nation (California Public Interest Research Group)

Failure to Curb Use of Antibiotics in Livestock Signals Danger for Humans (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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