California Governor Vetoes Flawed Antibiotics in Livestock Bill, Says it Won't Stop the Spread of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

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California’s governor Jerry Brown made it the first state to reject an antibiotics in livestock feed law when he vetoed a bill earlier this week that environmental and consumer advocacy groups have said wouldn’t make a measurable difference in the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In theory, the bill would have made it illegal to use antibiotics to enhance the growth of an animal in the largest agricultural state, and all uses of antibiotics in livestock feed applications would require a veterinary prescription.

But according to the Guardian, Governor Brown described the proposed law as an “unnecessary duplication of the FDA plan. He directed the state Food and Agriculture Department to work with legislators ‘to find new and effective ways to reduce the unnecessary antibiotics used for livestock and poultry.'” In his veto message, Governor Brown said: “Scientists around the world are warning that we are overusing these life-saving medicines."

The law was similar to a guidance document released by the FDA earlier this year, “carrying nearly as much weight as a formal regulation, to set a three-year period for drug makers to end the sale of medically important antibiotics as a livestock growth promotant and to require veterinary approval of antibiotic use in the future,” reports the Guardian.

Opposition to the bill was strong, and those groups that spoke out against it said that antibiotics in livestock would still be rampant, as the industry could claim that the drugs were being used “to prevent disease and infections.” It would be easy to obtain veterinary prescriptions for that purpose. "Just like under the FDA guidance, farmers in California would simply be compelled to change the reason for using antibiotics without actually reducing the amount they feed to their animals," reports Consumerist. "And since many of the antibiotics approved for growth-promotion are also approved for disease prevention, this is effectively just a matter of checking off a different box."

“Clearly, the governor is not going to accept good intentions and fig-leaf solutions to tackle this problem," Jonathan Kaplan of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the Guardian. “In vetoing this bill, the governor has called for strong action to curb unnecessary antibiotic use in California.” Elisa Odabashian of Consumers Union said: “Antibiotics should be used on the farm only for treatment of sick animals, for a limited amount of time, as antibiotics are used in human disease treatment.”

Approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are found in livestock applications. According to Governor Brown’s veto message, this leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths each year in the U.S.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: tim sackton

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