California proposes to ban most antibiotic use in livestock

Jan 24, 2014

—CA cattle industry questions motivations of seemingly redundant move

A California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) officer says his organization is sorting out the details of new legislation introduced by state lawmakers to restrict the use of antibiotics used on livestock—before the CCA takes an official stance on the measures.

On Jan. 6, Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo/Santa Barbara) and Assemblyman Kevin Mullen (D-South San Francisco) proposed bills in both California legislative houses charging the overuse of livestock antibiotics has enhanced the growth and spread of drugresistant bacteria.

More restrictive than Hill’s bill, Mullin’s bill would ban weight-gain antibiotics and restrict access to preventive antibiotics, limiting the use of antibiotics to cases in which there is a documented risk of a sick animal infecting other animals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that so-called “super bugs” infect more than two million Americans each year, killing at least 23,000 annually. The antibiotics used by livestock producers are used to treat existing health issues, guard against outbreaks and help animals increase size or bulk with less food and more quickly.

Last December, the Food and Drug Administration issued voluntary guidelines effectively discouraging farmers and ranchers from using antibiotics to promote growth in their animals. FDA Guidance 213’s voluntary rules that antibiotics could not be used exclusively for promoting growth will become mandatory by 2015.

CCA Second Vice President Dave Daley told the Western Livestock Journal that his association is actively involved in monitoring the new California legislation to make sure it does not adversely impact the ability of cattle producers to treat their animals properly.

“Most producers agree they want careful and judicious use of antibiotics. Veterinarian oversight is important,” Daley said. “We don’t believe indiscriminate use of antibiotics is good, either.”

The CCA wants to ensure the two bills pending in the California Legislature stay within and do not exceed federal guidelines regarding the use of antibiotics, which can be used as tools to benefit producers and consumers alike, Daley said.

“If the California legislation is simply mimicking federal guidelines, no harm, no foul, but be careful it does not go beyond that,” he said. “To be honest, if there is going to be a federal rule anyway, why do we need a California statute? That would be redundant. It is important that it is not more restrictive.”

The beef cattle industry has been moving in the same direction as the voluntary FDA guidelines, so they should not have much of an impact on ranchers. “For most cow/calf producers, this is not going to make a huge change,” he said, adding the voluntary guidelines might be doable without a significant impact.

However, if the state legislation continues to be amended and edited as it progresses through the Legislature, “it’s a moving target,” Daley said.

Hill said his Senate Bill 835 effectively will make it illegal for farmers and ranchers to use antibiotics to make animals grow bigger.

“My legislation will make it clear that the FDA guidelines are the law in California,” he stated, noting farms consume at least 70 percent of the nation’s antibiotics. “Antibiotic use in food-producing animals for non-medical reasons is a serious public health issue.”

Repeated exposure to antibiotics can make germs become resistant to drugs such as penicillin and tetracycline used to treat common bacterial infections in people, Hill said, asserting that such infections cause at least $20 billion in direct health care costs and at least $35 billion in lost productivity.

In 2005, the European Union banned the use of antibiotics in farm animals for non-medical purposes. The American Veterinary Medical Association, the Animal Health Institute, the American Meat Institute and the National Chicken Council have endorsed the FDA guidelines.

Mullen said the FDA’s recent voluntary regulations “are not enough to stop the inappropriate use of antibiotics in livestock and leave the public’s health at risk.”

Patterned after stalled federal legislation by California Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mullen’s bill bans the “non-therapeutic” use of antibiotics in livestock in California and requires the collection of information to track progress. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent