Gov. Brown mulls bill to curb antibiotic use in livestock

Cattle feed at a ranch in Delano, California.
Cattle feed at a ranch in Delano, California.

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Governor Jerry Brown is considering whether to sign a bill that would restrict the amount of antibiotics given to farm animals.

Last year the FDA asked meat producers to voluntarily stop using antibiotics just to fatten up livestock.

San Mateo State Senator Jerry Hill went a step further with SB 835, which would require California producers to adopt the recommendation. Hill’s bill would allow antibiotics only for medical reasons and only with a prescription. The measure cleared the legislature in early August.

"The Food and Drug Administration says that there is no scientific reason why antibiotics should be used to promote growth in livestock," Hill said in a statement. "Prohibiting their use as growth promoters and making sure there is veterinarian oversight are common sense measures to reduce antibiotic resistance."

The bill was spurred by growing antibiotic resistance in recent years among humans. In its 2013 report Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that two million people are sickened by antibiotic resistant infections annually, and at least 23,000 of them die.

The large majority of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use in livestock and poultry, according to the FDA. The FDA cautions against direct animal to human comparisons because of the differences in why the drugs are used, the distribution of drugs to companies and medical providers and the dosages given to each group.

Farm groups like the California Cattlemen’s Association support the bill; they call it a good compromise. Another bill that would have cracked down more on antibiotic use died in the legislature this session.

Health and consumer groups are urging the governor to veto the bill.

"We are concerned it is not going to have much impact," said Jonathan Kaplan of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Opponents say SB 835 would not decrease the use of antibiotics. They argue that it is not strict enough, pointing out that the bill would allow veterinarians to prescribe antibiotics for purely preventive care. The critics are also unhappy that the measure has no reporting mechanism to evaluate its impact. 

Gov. Brown has until the end of September to sign or veto the bill.