California Governor Finally Signs Nation’s First Law Getting Tough On Antibiotics In Farm Animals

Weeks after the California state legislature passed the nation’s first law intended to hold farmers and veterinarians accountable for the use of antibiotics in livestock, Governor Jerry Brown finally signed the bill over the weekend.

As we previously detailed, this law, SB 27, prohibits the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs on livestock except in situations where they are prescribed by a veterinarian. Additionally, it outlaws the use of antibiotics solely for the purpose of weight gain.

Antibiotics can still be used under SB 27, which won’t kick in until Jan. 1, 2018, but there is a prohibition against administering them in a “regular pattern.”

This condition is intended to prevent farmers and veterinarians from claiming that the drugs are needed for everyday disease prevention. However, it’s worth noting that the law does not yet provide parameters for what constitutes a “regular pattern.”

Another gray zone in the bill: It permits the prophylactic use of antibiotics to “address an elevated risk of contraction of a particular disease or infection.”

Low-dose prophylactic use of these drugs is believed to be a leading promoter of drug-resistant bacteria. SB 27 requires that prophylactic treatment be for a specific disease, which will hopefully prevent farmers from using multiple drugs to prevent an array of possible infections, but the lack of definition for the term “elevated risk” has been a point of concern for some supporters of the bill.

The main point is that SB 27 makes antibiotics abuse a legal matter instead of a purely regulatory affair.

If a farmer or vet is caught violating the law, by anyone, they can be sued in court where they will have to defend their actions and potentially face consequences of up to $500/day.

Veterinarians found to violate the law could face the loss of their license. That may be enough to turn the heads of those vets who may have been a little overly generous with antibiotics before.

SB 27 also require the state’s Dept. of Food and Agriculture to develop a program to gather information on antibiotic use in meat production. This is the sort of vital data gathering that researchers and consumer advocates have been pushing the FDA to pursue, as it would provide a more granular picture of the types and amounts of drugs being provided to the various types of livestock.

“We can’t afford to waste antibiotics on healthy animals at a time when these critical drugs are losing their power to treat disease,” explains our colleague Elisa Odabashian, Director of Consumers Union’s West Coast Office. “California’s new law establishes stronger limits than current voluntary federal guidelines and should prevent the irresponsible use of antibiotics for meat production. We applaud Governor Brown and state lawmakers for taking this important step to help protect public health and stop the careless overuse of antibiotics in livestock.”

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