Lawmakers in the Golden Gate City want to close the door on unnecessary antibiotic use in livestock, so they’ve unanimously OK’d a local ordinance requiring large retailers to annually report on antibiotics used by their meat and poultry suppliers.

The local law is the first of its kind in the country, according to the man who proposed it, San Francisco’s 8th District Supervisor Jeff Sheehy. Though the ordinance only applies to about 120 grocery stores — all in San Francisco — its reach is much broader.

It doesn’t matter if the local retailers get their meat and poultry from California family farm or a multi-national beef packer based in Brazil, they will have to collect annual data from those suppliers’ on their antibiotic policies and practices.

The law only applies to retailers that have more than 25 locations worldwide. But, that designation means Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other national and regional grocery retailers will have to pony up the data on their suppliers.

Local public health officials joined Sheehy, other city-county board members, and a legion of consumer and animal watchdog groups in support of the ordinance. They all said they hope a ripple effect from the measure travel through the public and industry.

By publicly posting the antibiotic information that retailers submit to the San Francisco Environment Department, the proponents hope to educate consumers and shame meat and poultry producers into eliminating unnecessary antibiotic use for speeding the growth of livestock and other non-medical reasons.

At least 2 million people in America contract antibiotic-resistant infections every year. Of those, at least 23,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Grocers opposed the ordinance because it holds them responsible for information that they say they do not control. They say San Francisco officials could more easily get the information by asking meat and poultry producers directly.

“… this proposal is focused on the production of meat products and treatment of animals while under the control of producers and is not about the safety of products while in grocers control,” according to a letter sent to the Board by Timothy M. James, senior manager of local government relations for the California Grocers Association.

That argument held little sway with the legislative body for San Francisco City and County.

Heavy hitters in the field of public health are cited in the “findings” portion of the ordinance proposed in June by Sheehy. The research reports ranged from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“While improper use of antibiotics in the healthcare sector is a contributing factor, organizations such as CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization recognize that the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in food animals is a significant source of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that affect humans,” according to the ordinance findings.

“In a 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics technical report, the authors stated that the ‘use of antimicrobial agents in agriculture can harm public health, including child health, through the promotion of resistance.’ … A significant portion of antibiotics administered to livestock are excreted in urine and manure, which are then spread as fertilizer on agricultural land.”

The San Francisco ordinance also references the documented spread of drug-resistant pathogens such as E. coli via drinking water systems near livestock operations; stormwater runoff; dust and top soil that has blown onto produce growing in nearby fields; and on field and slaughterhouse workers’ hands, clothing and shoes.

“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can pass their resistant genes on to other bacteria. This allows some bacteria, including bacteria in the human gut, to become resistant to antibiotics that they have never encountered,” according to Sheehy’s legislation.

“In addition, scientists and governmental agencies routinely find antibiotic-resistant bacteria on animals at slaughter and on raw meat in grocery stores. In 12 years of testing through the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), the FDA has identified antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can cause illness on retail pork chicken, ground beef and ground turkey every year.”

The San Francisco ordinance findings specifically points to statistics from NARMS most recent data, which is from 2012, and shows 33 percent of Salmonella, 60 percent of Enterococcus faecium, 30 percent of E. coli and 11 percent of Campylobacter coli found in chicken were resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics.

City departments will be subject to the ordinance, which requires local authorities to “audit” their meat purchases and estimate whether and when they can transition to meat and poultry raised without the routine use of antibiotics.

Grocers will be required to collect information from producers on several points:

  • Average number of days of antibiotic use per animal;
  • Percentage of animals treated with antibiotics;
  • Number of animals raised; and
  • Total volume of antibiotics administered.

Grocers also must back-up the information with evidence, such as a third-party certification. Violators could be fined up to $1,000 per day, per violation. The annual reporting requirement will kick in six months from approval of the ordinance.

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