Sen. Jerry Hill Taking Aim at Farm Antibiotics: Legislation Would Phase Out Use in Livestock, Poultry

December 19, 2013

Daily Journal

By Samantha Weigel

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, announced Tuesday his plans to introduce a bill to phase out the use of antibiotics in California farm animals when the legislature reconvenes Jan. 6.

His proposal aligns with the Food and Drug Administration statement last week that it would ask pharmaceutical companies, livestock and poultry producers to stop using antibiotics to promote faster growth in animals. However, this recommendation carries no legal weight so it’s important to make it a compulsory regulation, Hill said.

His legislation would codify the FDA outline, condemn antibiotics being used solely to enhance growth, require strict veterinary oversight and stipulates that any violation is subject to criminal penalty, Hill said. The bill would also require pharmaceutical companies to remove any labels that advertise growth enhancement, Hill said.

The use of antibiotics for therapeutic uses such as to treat, prevent or contain diseases in farm animals is crucial and would remain allowable, Hill said. The overuse of antibiotics in both animals and in humans has resulted in an onslaught of resistant bacteria that is having deadly consequences.

“When you look at the fact that over 2 million people in the country contract antibiotic-resistant infections each year and 23,000 people have died, that’s a tremendous number, and it’s a direct result from the overuse and misuse of antibiotics,” Hill said.

Over-prescribing antibiotics to humans is a factor and needs to be addressed as well; however, the fact that farms consume 70 percent of the nation’s antibiotic supply is a clear indicator that addressing their use in live stock and poultry is critical, Hill said.

Currently, Hill’s proposal doesn’t have specific language, so it’s not completely clear how the farmers who raise livestock and poultry will react, said Dave Daley, a fifth generation cattle rancher, a professor in animal science department at Chico State and the second vice president of the California Cattlemen’s Association.

Most cattlemen or ranchers want the judicious and effective use of antibiotics in the industry and if the legislative proposal is similar to what the FDA is asking, the industry and Hill may not be far apart, Daley said.

“Many people think that antibiotics are widely, or always, fed to all animals, and that’s a mistake to make that assumption. And that’s part of our challenge, is this perception that it’s just an indiscriminate use,” Daley said.

There are a lot of guidelines ranchers voluntarily follow, such as staying up to date with studies, keeping up with quality assurance programs and abiding by veterinary oversight, Daley said. It’s in the best interest of a farm animal producer to keep both their products and their consumers healthy.

“Ultimately, our goal is that we make a good product for the consumer, and we don’t want to jeopardize that,” Daley said.

The issue is complex, there is a lot of data to sort through and it’s often conflicting; so it’s important to make sure any regulations are done carefully and thoughtfully, Daley said.

There are different reasons why some bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, sometimes it’s on the part of the consumer’s behavior and sometimes it’s a naturally occurring phenomenon, Daley said.

It’s basic evolution 101; exposing people unnecessarily to antibiotics is creating super-strains of bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics, Hill said.

There was a recent salmonella outbreak that affected 400 Californians and was traced back to Foster Farms chickens; the sale of the infected chickens at two Costco stores in San Mateo County led to two lawsuits.

“If we don’t do something to change the way we do business, then it will certainly get worse and we’ll see more catastrophic results,” Hill said.

Although he hasn’t yet seen the specific language in Hill’s proposed bill and he isn’t sure if his organization would be in support of it, most ranchers are generally interested in doing the right thing, Daley said.

“This is a pretty simple goal, the best interest of the consumer and the best interest of the animals,” Daley said. “If you can do the two together, than I think we’ll be all right.”