California Poised to Enact Toughest Restrictions in the U.S. on Antibiotics in Livestock

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Consumers Union Urges Governor Brown to Sign Bill to Limit the Use of Antibiotics in Healthy Animals

The reckless use of antibiotics for meat production threatens public health by making these medications less effective for treating disease.

Meat producers in California would be barred from routinely feeding antibiotics to healthy animals under legislation recently passed by state lawmakers that Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, is urging Governor Jerry Brown to sign. The bill enacts the toughest limits in the country to date on the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, a practice which medical experts agree contributes to the spread of dangerous, drug-resistant superbugs.

“The reckless use of antibiotics for meat production threatens public health by making these medications less effective for treating disease,” said Elisa Odabashian, Director of Consumers Union’s West Coast Office. “This bill should prevent these critical drugs from being wasted on healthy animals and help ensure they continue to work when and where they are needed most.”

Approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are fed to mostly healthy animals like cows, pigs, and chickens to make them grow faster and to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary industrial farms. This practice promotes the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can spread to our communities. As antibiotic resistance grows, the medications used to treat infections in people become less effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that drug-resistant infections sicken at least two million people very year and that 23,000 die as a result.

SB 27, introduced by Senator Jerry Hill, prohibits meat producers from routinely using antibiotics in livestock unless they have a prescription from a veterinarian to treat a disease or infection or to prevent disease provided the use is not routine. It also requires the California Department of Food and Agriculture to gather information on the use of antibiotics in meat production to track how they are being used.    

Consumers Union had opposed SB 27 up until the last few weeks of the legislative session because it still allowed meat producers to regularly give antibiotics to animals even though they aren’t sick. Governor Brown vetoed a similar version of the bill last year, which Consumers Union and other groups urged him to do. In recent weeks, Governor Brown’s administration worked with Senator Hill to amend the bill to limit the use of antibiotics for disease prevention, which prompted Consumers Union and others to support its final passage.

“Governor Brown should be applauded for working to strengthen this legislation and address this serious public health issue,” said Odabashian. “This bill goes significantly beyond current voluntary federal guidelines and represents an important step in the push to stop the careless overuse of antibiotics in meat production.”

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Michael McCauley