California bill to limit antibiotics fails

Jun 12, 2009
by WLJ

California bill to limit antibiotics fails

Some reprieve was granted to California livestock producers when legislation that would have limited the use of antibiotics by licensed veterinarians to prevent and control disease in animal agriculture was defeated by the California Senate, June 3, with 15 senators voting in favor of the bill and 20 voting to oppose Senate Bill 416.

However, following the vote, the bill’s author, Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, CA, asked that the bill, as defeated, be moved to the Inactive File, meaning that the bill could potentially be up in the senate again next January. Though there is a possibility of seeing this bill again next year, the organizations who opposed this bill seem very pleased with the results.

Groups in opposition included the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), Western United Dairymen (WUD), California Farm Bureau Federation, California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), California Chamber of Commerce, California School Nutrition Association, Pacific Egg and Poultry Association, California Poultry Federation, and California Association of School Business Officials.

WUD Chief Executive Officer Michael Marsh said, "We were pleased with the outcome of the vote last week. This bill would have set a terrible precedent that animals treated with antibiotics are unsafe for consumption, which is absolutely not true. There are not antibiotic residues in the meat consumed by the public and we feel the author’s intent was severely off-target. The cost to our school system would have been outrageous and we are very fortunate that enough senators saw things our way."

Marsh said if the bill is proposed again next year in the same form, WUD will do everything in its power to kill it.

If passed, SB 416 would have required a school district to make every effort to purchase poultry and meat products that have not been treated with non-therapeutic antibiotics, and would have required each school district that purchases such poultry or meat products, or each school district that does not know if the products have been treated with non-therapeutic antibiotics, to report annually to the superintendent of Public Instruction the reasons those products were purchased, along with other information.

The bill would have required the superintendent, commencing Jan. 1, 2012, and annually thereafter, to compile those reports and report to the Legislature. The bill would also, commencing Jan. 1, 2015, have prohibited a person from using antibiotics for non-therapeutic use in any animal raised for the production of any human food product.

"Beef producers are very responsible and have the best interest of their consumers in mind. The meat we feed our own families is the same as the meat we send on to our consumers," said CCA President Tom Talbot, DVM, a rancher from Bishop, CA. "California’s beef cattle producers work with veterinarians to judiciously use antibiotics to treat and prevent disease and ensure proper animal welfare for cattle under our care and we applaud the majority in the senate for putting science ahead of rhetoric in defeating this bill."

Talbot also noted that expert witnesses at an antibiotic hearing held by Florez in March testified that antibiotic resistance in humans has been researched for years and there is no scientific evidence to support that antibiotics in animals have any negative effects on human health. Antibiotic resistance was a driving argument for Florez.

Talbot said if this bill comes up again as written, CCA is likely to again oppose it.

"The passage of a bill like SB 416 would not only be devastating for beef producers, but for the public as well," he said.

The defeat of this bill was a bipartisan effort. Of all republican senators voting on the bill, all voted "no," with only one republican and three democrats abstaining. Seven democrats joined the republicans in voting the bill down.

According to the republican analysis of the bill, there were many reasons for opposition to the legislation, including research findings from the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Institute for Food Safety regarding the need for subtherapuetic antibiotics in food animals to protect human health.

In a statement released by CVMA following defeat of the bill, the group said, "Further restrictions on the use of antibiotics would bring harm to animal health and welfare and could ultimately harm public health due to increased food borne diseases. Food animal veterinarians, through sound clinical judgment and compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations, must be allowed to make appropriate decisions to protect public health and food safety. This includes the use of antibiotics for treatment, prevention, or control of disease and for growth promotion/feed efficiency."

Though Florez’s district is located in the diverse agriculture region of California’s Central Valley, he was also an avid supporter of California’s Proposition 2 last year which addressed the size of egg-laying cages, farrowing crates and veal hutches, and passed by a wide margin. This year, Florez also authored of SB 135, a measure that aims to ban tail docking in cattle, which passed the senate body this week and will now move onto the California Assembly. — WLJ