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California Governor Signs Bill Regulating Animal Antibiotics

PigsFeedingTroughOn Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 27, which will make the Golden State the first in the nation to require a veterinarian’s prescription for therapeutic antibiotic uses in livestock, ban other uses (including low-dosage levels used to prevent diseases), and require that data be collected on antibiotic use.

In his signing message, Brown stated that, “SB 27 addresses an urgent public health problem. 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.

“Recently, American poultry producers have shown leadership by voluntarily committing to better husbandry practices and eliminating the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics. This is an example that the rest of the lifestock industry should follow.”

Last October, Brown vetoed a similar bill, saying that it simply codified the Food and Drug Administration’s voluntary standard for removing growth promotion claims from animal antibiotics labels and the agency’s rule bringing all antibiotics under veterinary oversight.

At the time, California’s governor said it was an “unnecessary since most major animal producers have already pledged to go beyond the FDA standard.”

The 2015 bill that reached Brown’s desk in September included provisions about growth promotion and veterinary oversight, but it went even further by not allowing the regular pattern of use for prophylactic purposes.

This gives the law more teeth, says Avinash Kar, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) health program. It also addresses a loophole public health advocates see in the FDA guidance.

Antibiotic overuse on farms can lead to resistant bacteria that cause infections in both animals and humans and could spread resistance genes from animal bacteria to human pathogens. Despite drug companies’ commitment to FDA’s plan last year, public health advocates worry that the drugs will be re-listed with new “disease prevention” labels and still be used in the same way.

The new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018, and was sponsored by State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), also requires the California Department of Food and Agriculture to start a monitoring program “to gather information on medically important antimicrobial drug sales and usage, antimicrobial resistant bacteria, and livestock management practice data.”

Discussion about the best way to collect on-farm use data recently began at the federal level.

“This bill will instantly put California at the forefront of U.S. efforts to address the overuse of antibiotics in livestock,” Kar says. “It’s the first law in the country to actually regulate this issue.”

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