New and effective measures are needed: California governor in critical veto of livestock antibiotic law

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

New and effective measures are needed: California governor in critical veto of livestock antibiotic law

Related tags: Antibiotics, Medicine, Livestock

In vetoing a livestock antibiotic bill on Tuesday, the governor of California is, in fact, calling for stronger action to curb unnecessary antibiotic use in that state, say US environmental and consumer groups.

Governor Jerry Brown refused to sign Bill SB 835​ into law - a piece of legislation aimed at restricting the amount of antibiotics given to farm animals. He said the Bill was futile as it would only serve to codify US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance on growth promoter phase out.

"Codifying these standards is unnecessary since most major animal producers have already pledged to go beyond the FDA standard,"​ said the politician.

The FDA is seeking an end to the use of certain antibiotics by 2017 in livestock production, but by voluntary means. In June the agency said all drug companies were fully engaged with this strategy.

If Bill SB835, authored by California Senator, Jerry Hill, had been passed, it would have meant livestock producers in California were legally obliged to only administer antibiotics for medical reasons and then only with a prescription. The measure cleared the legislature in early August.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and numerous other public interest groups praised the governor's move. They had strongly opposed the Bill and had lobbied the statesman to veto it, arguing the legislation was "flawed"​ and that it did not make meaningful progress beyond the FDA’s voluntary approach.

But farm groups like the California Cattlemen’s Association supported the Bill, claiming the measure was a good compromise.

AHI rejects label argument

The NRDC argue that both the SB 835 and the FDA guidance call on pharmaceutical companies to eliminate the use of antibiotics for ‘growth promotion’ but, in practice, both strategies would see many of the same drugs being used routinely albeit under other label categories.

The Animal Health Institute (AHI), the veterinary health lobby in the US, rejects such an interpretation of the US agency's policy, saying the FDA approved labels for prevention of disease are generally different from the FDA approval labels for growth.

“Once this [FDA phase-out] policy is implemented, producers and veterinarians cannot and will not use antibiotics at low levels to promote growth. Prevention claims require the documented threat of the disease or bacteria that is named on the label, and veterinarians will have to document this threat in order to prescribe the use of an antibiotic for prevention,”​ added the Institute.

Brown urges legislators to rethink antibiotics strategy

Governor Brown, citing data showing at least two million illnesses are caused by antibiotics resistance in the US annually, called for policy makers to work to find “new and effective”​ ways to reduce the livestock and poultry sector's reliance on medically important antimicrobials.

Elisa Odabashian, director of the West Coast Office and State Campaigns for the Consumers Union, says the overuse of antibiotics in food production is making antibiotics ineffective for treatment of human disease. "Antibiotics should be used on the farm only for the treatment of sick animals, for a limited period of time, as antibiotics are used in human disease treatment,”​  she said.

That advocacy group had favored another piece of more stringent legislation aimed at reducing the use of antibiotics in farm animals - Assembly Bill 1437. That measure would have banned the sale of meat in California if antibiotics were used for a purpose other than treating illness, but the Bill failed to pass its first policy committee.


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