Health

Governor signs strictest livestock antibiotics bill in US

A group of cows wait for slaughter on December, 29th 2003, in a lot near Kearsey, Colorado.
A group of cows wait for slaughter on December, 29th 2003, in a lot near Kearsey, Colorado.
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

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Governor Jerry Brown on Saturday signed the nation’s toughest livestock antibiotics bill that will limit when and how these medications can be used in meat production.

Using antibiotics to speed up the growth of poultry, cows and other livestock is common practice in the U.S. meat industry and one that poses a serious public threat, health experts say.

That’s because feeding these drugs to livestock that aren’t sick kills off weaker bacteria, creating the perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant 'superbugs' that can infect livestock and people.

The new law, by Sen Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), bans the use of antibiotics in animals that are not sick. It also puts veterinarians in charge of antibiotic use in meat production; requires the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to develop a program to track antimicrobial use in livestock and to track the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

At least two million people in the United States become infected each year with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, with at least 23,000 of them dying  every year as a direct result of these infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Both human and animal use and misuse of antibiotics contributes to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but "more than 70 percent of sales of medically important antibiotics in the United States are for animal use," says the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 

The law takes effect January 1, 2018.