Brown vetoes antibiotic farm bill, seeks new legislation

Hogs on Riley Lewis' farm in Forest City, Iowa.
Hogs on Riley Lewis' farm in Forest City, Iowa.
Amy Mayer/Iowa Public Radio

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California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have restricted the amount of antibiotics given to farm animals. He called it unnecessary because meat producers have already pledged to take the steps called for in the measure. Brown also indicated he would support legislation that devised "new and effective ways to reduce the unnecessary antibiotics used for livestock and poultry.

"More needs to be done to understand and reduce our reliance on antibiotics," Brown wrote in his veto note. He  directed the state's Department of Food and Agriculture to work with the legislature on the effort to find "new and effective" ways to reduce antibiotic use on the farm. 

The bill, SB 835, grew out of concern about antibiotic resistant bacteria. Last year, the FDA asked meat producers to voluntarily stop using antibiotics just to plump up livestock.  SB 835, sponsored by State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), would have codified the recommendation and would have allowed antibiotic use only for medical reasons, including disease prevention.

Some environmental and consumer groups opposed the bill because they felt it didn't go far enough, and had no reporting mechanism. They expressed satisfaction with the veto Tuesday, saying it keeps the door open for more stringent restrictions and oversight in the future. 

"We need to lift the curtain of secrecy that now shrouds the industry’s use of these drugs and eliminate unnecessary antibiotic use so that these precious medicines keep working for people who need them," said Jonathan Kaplan, director of the food and agricultural program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Sen. Hill had characterized the bill as a first step in addressing concerns about antibiotic use on farm animals. The measure had support from the farm community, including the California Cattlemen’s Association, which called it a good compromise.

A 2013 CDC report estimated that more than 2 million Americans get sick and at least 23,000 die each year from antibiotic resistant bacteria. In the U.S. the majority of antibiotics are used in livestock.